The big buzzword surrounding the technology industry today is ‘augmented reality' or ‘AR'. In a nutshell, augmented reality allows us to view the world around us through the filter of a smartphone or tablet's camera, with information about the things we see and hear overlaid on top. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger's ‘Terminator-vision' from the Terminator films, and you have a fairly good idea of what we're talking about. While it may sound like sci-fi, AR is starting to gain a foothold already, with apps like Blippar available for the latest devices. And just recently, Sony announced that their new PS4 console would include an AR game called ‘PlayRoom'.
While at present the technology is in relatively early stages, the implications are huge, and it has the potential to impact on virtually all aspects of our lives. Take, for example, going out shopping. Many savvy consumers on the high street use their mobile devices to check the price of goods they see in a shop with the same item on the Internet. This has already caused high street sales to take a hit in recent years, but now imagine if shoppers could have price comparisons and customer reviews presented to them in real time, as the item is viewed. This could potentially revolutionize the nature of not just retail, but all high street services.
Two barbershops may look identical from the outside, but if your AR smartphone is presenting you with five-star reviews for one and horror stories for the other, it's very likely to affect your decision of where to get a haircut. AR is likely to cause significant changes to consumer behavior on a large scale.
Advertisers are rapidly catching on to this fact, however, and are quickly turning it to their advantage. AR has the potential, when provided with access to user information such as purchase history, to deliver extremely targeted advertising that caters to the desires of the individual. It could also lead to some interesting and creative new advertising, focused on interactivity.
We have already seen a few examples of this type of thing: take, for example, National Geographic's ad campaign which allowed people to interact with virtual dinosaurs in a real-life setting. It's a lot of fun, and this kind of thing has the potential to be transferred to areas such as education, creating engaging content that children can interact with as part of their learning.
AR is also changing the world of travel – and not just in the tourist industry either. Making your way through an unfamiliar country can be tricky, even with current smartphone technology to assist us. It won't be too long, though, before AR will enable our smartphones and tablets to act as nothing short of our own personal travel guides.
Not only will AR do things such as translate signs, show real-time weather and traffic reports, and find and book a taxi, but it will also cater to sightseers. For example, if you are visiting some local ruins, you may be able to view 3D renditions of how the buildings originally looked, complete with commentary specific to your location. There is also the possibility of integrating social media into this type of experience, with tweets and updates regarding the shared experience.
These are just a few of the ways that augmented reality is completely changing the way we view the world. It's a trend that's set to continue and expand, and with wearable technology such as Google Glass on the horizon, it's looking likely that soon a lot of people will be viewing the world through a permanent AR filter.