Augmented Reality: A Flash in the Pan?

Access All Area’s latest opinion piece asks if AR is all show and no substance. CT’s Media Solutions Director, Tim Volker, weighs in…

As with every new tech innovation that comes around, event technology companies have to be careful not to jump on a bandwagon that hasn’t got much of a journey…

And, as great as augmented reality is, that’s where it seems to be at the moment. It happens every few years, a new piece of technology gains popularity and gets picked up by a movie release or marketing ploy that catches people’s imaginations. Then, once the excitement fades, so does the technology.

Consider 3D; thanks to Avatar, 3D was HUGE and, all of a sudden, appeared everywhere. Now, it’s all but non-existent in the events industry. Yes, people have 3D televisions at home and pay to go watch a particular movie in 3D. Yet, in the world of events, 3D never stuck.

Applying this immersive tech to events has very different implications than for personal-use. A large problem with AR is that the wearables have the possibility to distract as well as engage. Organisers need to decide whether getting attendees to cover their eyes will enhance or diminish their event experience and, if they want to take that risk.

As we all remember, augmented reality’s first big wearable, Google Glass, was famously unsuccessful after its wearers became known as “glassholes” — highlighting how the Glass device caused its users to become heavily dependent on their Glass. Google even had to release guidelines on how to avoid becoming a dreaded “glasshole”.

But, overcoming wearables is imminent with smartphones getting in the action. Allowing users to use their smartphones to create an AR means that their eyes remain free and the user can choose whether they want to step into an augmented reality, or not. A balance between distraction and involvement: perfect for an event.

Obviously, sometimes utilising technological fads work (how they become fads in the first place). The important thing is based around what you do with the trend that makes it unique and memorable. Using AR won’t get you the attention your event deserves, what you do with AR will! As always, regardless of the technology, content still reigns king.

AR devotee Nolan O’Connor, director, NOC Marketing sees a tech-dominated future for events…

The events industry has always been about giving people an emotional experience or engaging with content. As an event organiser, I can totally see that the invention of augmented reality (AR) provides victors with a more informative, visual experience and is able to bring events, brand sponsors and their audience closer together. Far from it being a distraction, I see it as enhancing the experience — for the growing numbers that choose this form of interaction.

When we go into John Lewis on Oxford Street, we can choose a sofa and render it via iPad to see what it looks like within the confines of out living rooms, all while still standing in the shop. Selfridges and Skoda, amongst others, have already ventured into this space.

AR will really come to the world’s attention when Microsoft launches HoloLens this spring. HoloLens supposedly “allows live presentation of physical real world elements to be incorporated with that of virtual elements such that they are perceived to exist together in a shared environment”.

Think about watching a horse race down at Windsor Racecourse. You have no idea who is riding each horse. AR lets you see the name of every horse in that race — in a live environment, tagging each horse like it might do on a TV reply — but in live feeds via your phone’s camera. It will also tell you the speed and any statistics you might want. This is already in existence and betting companies are taking advantage. Imagine applying that to festivals or events — even B2B.

As a consumer, we will soon have a standard expectation of this level of functionality in the not-too-distant future. Technology is changing rapidly and increasing at an exponential rate. The Internet of Things (IoT) is commonly seen as the fourth industrial revolution. Each household will have more than 50 devices connected to the Internet by 2022 — up from 10 today. 5G networks will start rolling out in 2020. This means speeds of 115Gbps and millisecond latency — i.e. no waiting for data. Access to data nd information will be ubiquitous. This makes it eacy for event organisers to provide AT if they are fit and present.

My view is that if your event or business is not able to provide this level of functionality in the near term, or be agile enough to collect data to enable augmented reality, then customers will have a lowered experience of an event — and will move to competitors that can offer this experience.