Augmented reality (AR) is here and it has been for quite a while. It may sound like farfetched future tech from sci-fi movies, but in reality it first came into existence in the 1990s. AR will assert its integration into our everyday lives with the rollout of 5G.
Augmented reality is the result of using technology to superimpose information — sounds, images and text — on the world we see. AR is often confused with Virtual Reality (VR). The big difference between AR and VR is that AR adds to your already existing environment whilst VR creates an entirely artificial environment.
The first time AR truly became mainstream, and probably the first time most people heard about it, was during launch of Pokemon Go and the subsequent media craze it caused. However, this wasn't the first attempt to bring AR into the public eye.
In 2013 Google tried to start the “AR revolution” with the launch of Google Glass. It aimed to integrate all of Google services directly into your field of view through their glasses. Nevertheless, the excitement about the glasses was short lived and they were discontinued in 2015.
The first wide scale use of augmented reality was in 1998, as the NFL debuted its First Down Line (yellow). A virtual line superimposed on the field for TV audiences to help identify the yardage needed for the next First Down.
Nowadays, we use augmented reality mainly through our phones. Just last week another prominent AR app was launched: Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The game, made by the creators of Pokemon Go, has garnered a lot of media attention due to the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise. The app reflects this in their downloads, with over 4 million in the first week alone.
However, we wanted to ask, how do AR apps improve our lives beyond games? So, we took a look at those AR apps that aim to improve our everyday lives.
Snapchat is the biggest app available that uses AR as one of its core features. Every Snapchat lens, from bunny ears, faceswaps to the dancing hotdog, use Augmented reality. Snapchat already has over 400,000 lenses, made by the company itself and by the community using Snapchat’s lens studio tool, which enables creators to make their own AR lenses.
The app has also added other AR features such as scan, it's AR utility platform, AR bar and “landmarkers”. The latter allowing you to bring famous landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower to life (pictured below).
Snapchat’s AR integration is very popular with their young audience, which is their main demographic, with 90% of users being between ages 13-24.
Star Walk 2
Star Walk 2, an educational app, allows you to see the stars and its constellations in the skies above you and learn about them. The star map you see is based on your geolocation.
Most importantly the app allows you to overlay the interactive star map over your real world surroundings using AR, so you can relate to its actual location and enables gaze at the stars even on a cloudy day.
The app is quite popular with over 7 million downloads and averaging 1.8 million MAUs over the last year.
Tattoos, done right, are incredible but they are also a lifelong commitment. What if you could see how a tattoo would look on you with actually getting it? Inkhunter makes this possible using AR. The app allows you to digitally place the tattoo on your skin, simply by drawing a smiley on the place you want the tattoo. So you can try all the designs you ever dreamed about and avoid any tattoo nightmares.
Try before you buy is generally sound advice, but normally not possible with your furniture. Yes, driving to your “local” Ikea and spending your Saturday looking at their displays is an option, but even then you don't know if it will fit into your living room. IKEA wanted to help out and made an AR app, IKEA Place.
IKEA place uses augmented reality to insert any item in their catalog into your home. Through the App, a 3D and full scale model of the furniture in question appears in your room and you can rotate and move it to see how it fits.
A building’s floor plan can be hard to get and very expensive. How about you make your own. Magicplan allows you to measure a room's dimensions using augmented reality and make an entire floor plan; adding multiple rooms, by just tapping on your phone a few times. Another key feature is turning your newly created floor plan into a 3D model of your home, with the ability to add furniture to the plans.
Google Translate has already integrated augmented reality into its service. In 2015, the app added image recognition that can directly translate the text your camera captures.
Incredible, but it comes with a few restrictions. First time users will find this doesn't happen instantly and one first must select what sections to translate. However, instant translation, as seen in the picture, can be enabled by downloading the original language in the text. This feature is especially useful when travelling in a foreign country.
What’s next for AR ?
Augmented reality is still a very under-utilised and unknown technology. Snapchat might be the exception, however, we could question the real world uses of AR in this app's case. So, the next step is the mass adoption of AR into our everyday lives and the world’s largest companies are working on making this a reality.
Apple has already released their ARKit to help developers make AR apps. Google has been leading the charge in terms of augmented reality integration. Just this week Google-owned Vivo announced their own set of AR glasses. Additionally, Google has been integrating AR into more of their products, the most prominent being Google Maps.
The AR feature will integrate the app’s navigation into your real view, so you’ll never make a wrong turn again. Google Maps AR feature is actually already released, but only available on the Google Pixel 3. Other phones are going to have to wait a bit longer.
Why is 5G so important for Augmented Reality?
For AR to take the next step, the data networks it uses need to be faster and more reliable. 5G will not only increases speed 100 fold compared to 4G, but it will also increase its bandwidth and the amount data being sent at once - meaning network performance is maintained even in busy areas.
An additional issue 5G solves is latency. Latency is the time difference between your input and your phone’s reaction to that input. Average latency is approximately 50-100ms. For augmented reality to run smoothly it needs a latency of less than 7ms. These differences sound minute but have a major impact on user experience. This was seen during the release of Pokemon GO where the game was constantly plagued with lags and high latency as 4G network couldn't keep up with the demand.
To learn more about 5G and its impact on apps, check out our other blog here.