Applying augmented reality in news

Tom van den Broek
Dec 9, 2019 · 4 min read

This post is about our exploration of Augmented Reality and what it can contribute to a news organization. We hope you enjoy it. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

About NOS

NOS is an independent public news and sports organization from the Netherlands. We are a broadcaster by origin, and the last few decades we’ve witnessed how news is becoming a digital and mobile service. We have dedicated teams of digital professionals to create these services.

At NOS we experiment with new technology every now and then. Last year our engineers decided to experiment with Apples’ ARKit. We dove into the technology for two days and eventually created a concept-app with which users could place a globe in AR. You could walk around it and take a step towards it to take a closer look.

our engineer Paul demonstrates the concept-app

The use case

Jeugdjournaal is our news service aimed at children aged 8 to 12 .Because the technology is playful, and because kids discover the world playing, we had our kids’ product Jeugdjournaal in mind while experimenting.

The initial concept was pretty straightforward: a child reads a news story, when this story takes place in another country we challenge the child to explore the globe and look up the country by pinching, swiping, walking around the globe. When the country is located on the globe we reward the user with facts and figures on the country. Aim here is to increase story engagement and time spent.

drafts of the onboarding of the first concept

From proof of concept to production

I recently read that a lot of tech experiments are comparable to a theatre; demonstrating what’s possible, getting people upbeat, and eventually moving on without doing anything significant. Demonstrating something can be fun but it’s not necessarily difficult. It’s notoriously hard to move from proof of concept to a real life product that always delivers. This is also what we learned.

Our designers and engineers had to dive into AR. The dynamics of the tooling. And the whole concept of placing objects, manipulating them, styling them, working with textures, took time to put into practice.

A proof of concept is demonstrated on the best device available, under ideal circumstances. While integrating the concept in our existing product we concluded not all kids could use the new feature, we had to consider the devices supporting this feature. Also we invested effort in performance. What good is a feature like this if it drains your phone battery too fast? We had to carefully consider and test the feature making sure it doesn’t impact the product in a negative way.

It’s a well known pattern users scan their phone for apps which take up too much space. When your app is too big and matters too little, it gets deleted. App size is vital. In this project there were choices on the table to either host the required assets or download them. Also we had to decide how much detail we wanted to bring into our textures. All decisions to balance between experience and resources.

It also took time to make the product work intuitively, this is something which is hard to specify while designing. We had to take sensitivity into account.

Results

I’m proud that one of our experiments came to life in one of our main products. But what about the results? The first few days after launching this feature, about 40% of the time it is offered by our users the new feature was opened. This is quite a staggering number. The following weeks this rate dropped and is now stabilized around 12%. For us this is still a very decent rate for a new feature. On average kids spend about 1 minute exploring the globe when opening it. Altogether every day about 25 hours is spent using the globe. On top of that, we received great reviews for this new feature.

Al in all this project had a few setbacks, especially when moving from concept-app to production. It took us longer than anticipated to bring this to life. But the results and feedback from the kids make it worthwhile. The application is now publicly available in the App Store.

our Augmented Reality application in the Jeugdjournaal-app

Moving forward we’re aware that we’re scratching the surface of what this technology can add to our daily practice. Several other ideas came to mind to apply this technology in a news product:

  • we could use the globe as a main interface, why not let kids discover the news on the globe instead of our front page?
  • to illustrate the scale we could illustrate migratory flows on a globe when reporting on it
  • when reporting on extreme weather a globe seems perfectly suited to explain what’s happening

Obviously the potential of AR and VR exceeds the use cases mentioned here, which are mainly inspired by the globe. If you have any thoughts on this post, or on future applications, please share them in the comments below.

NOS Digital

NOS developer blog

Tom van den Broek

Written by

Head of product at NOS

NOS Digital

NOS developer blog

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