Augmented Reality


I work in telecoms (the obvious home for classicists) and was recently at the Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona, where the latest and greatest developments were being demonstrated. My personal favourites were the waterproof paper and the laser keyboard, but there was a lot of noise around the trend of AR – Augmented Reality.

This means a ton of different things, but mostly overlaying what you see on a screen with additional information. Currently you can look at a street through your camera phone and get info on the buildings (like ‘this is a restaurant, here’s the menu, here’s the number to call for reservations’). I spoke to someone at Ford who was talking about HUDs on cars combined with AR, and that by 2020 he expected to see an AR-HUD on most car windscreens showing satnav on the road, minimum stopping distances from the car ahead (and what speed that car is travelling at), speed camera warnings, turn-off warnings, etc etc.

This all sounds pretty cool (although I’d have thought that much white noise on the windscreen might be a bit dangerous? But I’m not a driver so not confident of my ground there), but it did slightly leave me wondering – are we advancing the technology because there’s a demand for it, or because we can?

It’s the same thing that the tablet threw up. Even the phone operators didn’t know what it was for – one of the most popular speeches I ever put together was a bunch of people who use tablets in their businesses, because that let the operators hear where their product fit in the market. Mental. They just made it because Apple did, and people bought them.

Why did people buy them? This got asked in the conference as well. One of the delegates, who had just got one, replied with ‘it’s the nicest thing you don’t need’. Do we really want this stuff? Or do we buy it because they tell us we want it, and it’s shiny?

I don’t have a tablet. I have played with one at various events and decided that it is ultimately fairly pointless. My phone, laptop and TV will do each task better. But everyone who does have one seems to adore them. So – and I’m genuinely curious about this – what is it about advanced technology in general, and tablets in particular, that is so attractive?

8 responses »

  1. Personally I haven’t bought a tablet. I have a Kindle (which I adore) – and if they were out in the UK I probably would have gone for a Kindle Fire to get tablet functionality out of it as well.
    I think the main desire stems from being able to browse the internet whilst sat in the garden or on the sofa. I’m going to massively generalise and say that I suspect the majority of people who buy tablets are people who spend their evenings choosing between sitting on the sofa and missing being online and sitting at a desk and missing being on the sofa.
    As for AR in cars – it’s a brilliant idea. I believe there’s already a Mercedes available which does this (albeit basically). I’d say it would actually improve my driving – one of the most dangerous things is having to take your eyes away from the windscreen in order to check instrumentation – HUD means you don’t have to (the same principle applies in Fighter jets where HUDs are commonly used).
    Personally – I’m looking forward to HUD contact lenses. I’m an information junkie, I look everything i read about but don’t know about up on wikipedia. I like to know the history of a place or how far away I am from something. I’d love to be able to receive information like that.

  2. I got a tablet recently and use it for checking my email, reading the news and browsing forums on the train on my way to work (or while vegging on the sofa). It’s very light to carry, enough that I forget it’s in my bag even better the battery lasts all day.

    It’s niche but useful.

  3. I honestly don’t understand why people become so attached to their tablets.

    I too work in Telecoms and many of our service team members are head over heels for them… especially the new Motorola.

    I find them a little cumbersome. Great for home browsing and great for passing round boardroom table but other than that I’m happy to go without.

    Naturally, I get excited when I get my hands on a new piece of kit – I’m a tech-geek at heart – but the buzz doesn’t last. Tablets for example, are just big smart-phones. Sure they have great graphics and often have an electric tingle to them as you handle them (this can be very seductive at first) but the novelty soon wears off.

    Then again, for all my nerdisms, I don’t do that much that a tablet would help with. I use a console for gaming, watch very little TV and read paper & ink books. I use my HTC smartphone to communicate and a laptop/pc to “work” (work can be split into creative writing for pleasure and coding, documenting and planning for money).

    Looking at the colleagues I have who jump at new technology, a small percentage actually have a use for the technology – it fills a gap that isn’t otherwise occupied in their lives. The majority, though, are like kender clutching at a newly acquired bauble.

    I can see future uses for some of the more recent tablets. We’re absolutely going to make use of the new Motorola amongst our sales team – signature capture is now finally viable for us.

  4. I have a tablet – we bought a couple as an experiment to see if they would be useful (an event cancellation left us with unallocated funds in an account which we had to spend or lose). At the time, it was a revolutionary breakthrough for me – a wireless capable device small enough to carry everywhere that could handle push email, document reading, GPS navigation and a bunch of other amazing things. A month or two later, I bought my first smartphone and realised my error.

    The tablet, shiny as it is, mostly gets used as a paperback-sized internet browsing device allowing me to read TV Tropes from the comfort of the sofa.

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