From Dreams To Reality: Will AR Ever Live Up To Its Hype?

Among the list of disruptive tech advancements that has come into the forefront across the span of the last decade and that has the potential to permanently alter the way we operate on a day-to-day basis is the advent of augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). While the former superimposes data or images on the real world, the latter incorporates a hybrid that includes objects from the real world and those from the virtual world (i.e the virtual reality realm).

Promises in advancements aside, the human race is an extremely unforgiving, impatient and results one. Innovation is often only embraced when society is ready. We take a look at two introductions that will no doubt go down as benchmarks in the industry but have fallen short in their underwhelming delivery of AR in its true form and why this is so:

The Pokémon Go Phenomenon: True AR or Location-based Entertainment?

For many of us, Pokémon Go was our first conscious touch with the world of AR, regardless of whether we physically downloaded the app and got involved in the hype or not. Yes, the purists will state that success is measured on many metrics and the app did come with unprecedented fanfare and less-than-humble traction worldwide – figures of daily users were reported as being around 147 Million as of May 2018. That being said, the platform had its limitations, a clear show of how AR was and still is at its infancy stage.

Sunny Dhillon of Signia Venture Partners put it well in 2016, “Calling Pokémon Go AR is like calling mobile 360 video VR. Both are incredibly low-end, basic demonstrations of what each technology will be capable of in the next five years.” He was referring partly to the fact that a true AR platform would incorporate inherent real time depth mapping and object recognition – two areas that Pokémon Go does not scale seamlessly. The app can be tagged as location-based entertainment at best, without the presence of advanced optics, SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) or advanced computer vision for that matter. It’s safe to say that it was a great introduction to AR at a basic form to allow the public a taste of what is to come. When it does.

Magic Leap a Far Cry from Practical

This one had all the promise of being a game-changer, as well as a medium that deviated away from the traditional mobile phone. And once again, it DID give the public a taste of the tech potential that MR has to offer. The proprietary wearable technology company garnered much attention with its total funding of US$2.3 billion, with an impressive investor list that included Google, Alibaba, Temasek as well as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Arm.

After all the hype surrounding the billions in funding received listed above, the company launched its first prototype, the Magic Leap One, in August 2018. The issues with Magic Leap that have left many consumers and tech enthusiasts bemused revolve around a few factors. Firstly, the design is still way too bulky for everyday use. The tech is powered by a hip-mounted mini computer, further adding to its impracticability when on the go. The fact that the user is constantly reminded of the fact that he or she is wearing the headset takes away from the experience to a certain degree.

Now let’s get to the tech, or rather its shortcomings. The view that it provides has been said to not offer a field of view that matches one’s eyes. In fact, Rolling Stone magazine has been quoted as saying that the  “Viewing space Magic Leap offers is about the size of a VHS tape held in front of you with your arms half extended”. That essentially means that it is incapable of projecting digital information across the user’s entire field. An MIT Technology Review put it quite aptly, “Yet while the experiences in the demo room are fun and visually impressive, none of it is truly mind-blowing.”  It would seem that Magic Leap did not deliver on expectations, meeting similar reactions that Microsoft’s Hololens did before.

It seems like we are still a long way from where the industry wants to be. The next decade or so should see AR and MR developments role out predominantly on the mobile phone due to sheer accessibility, with developers in the field having already become familiar with Apple’s ARKit, and Google’s ARCore. When it comes to wearable tech, the industry needs to advance dramatically – it needs to reach a point where content and hardware meets expectations for their use to be widespread enough.he mobile phone is a much more conventional and traditional option at this point.  If there’s anything that Pokémon and Magic Leap has thought us, however, is that the future is going to be much more immersive, blurring the lines between the digital and real world.