Augmenting the user’s skills, not just their reality

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Morten Just

Using augmented reality comes with a series of tradeoffs. So what does it take to build a useful AR app in a pre-glasses world?

There’s something interesting going on inside a phone running an augmented reality app. It’s summoning almost all the abilities it has; it measures how it’s rotated in space, how it moves around, it scrutinizes the camera feed for visual hints about the its surroundings. It’s such an elaborate magic trick, just so we can do what, exactly? Watch dancing dinosaurs on our desk. Is there something more useful we could do with it?

The following five demos try — and certainly fail at times—to do this:

  1. No unnecessary 3D objects. They risk being in the way rather than being useful.
  2. Augment skills, not just reality. Allow the user to do something faster, better, or even better, entirely new.
  3. Get the job done better than an app not using augmented reality.
  4. Make it work on a phone, not just glasses.

Augmented travel skills

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What’s that foreign bank note worth?

This seems to be a great job for image recognition and augmented reality. But probably not good enough for an entire app of its own, unless you have a lot of notes lying around.

But Stuart had a good point:

Let’s make it so. With sound.

Augmented book buying skills

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Here’s another example where augmented reality can help keep track of multiple things as easily as we’ve done it in the real world for thousands of years. You found a pile of books at the bookstore. Which one should you get?

Surprisingly, web pages not only render in AR, they’re also interactive. Spread them out to see them all at once. Pick one up to interact.

Augmented tv remote control skills

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Ask anyone’s mom (or dad!) what’s complex, and sadly, they’ll often mention their tech appliances. So we write her notes so she can watch Jeopardy after we leave. Once again, AR helps coupling the virtual with the real world, and actually points to exactly the button she needs to push to get the quiz shows flowing.

But you can’t fool people the internet.

And for all those with the time and money to pack down a crack team of remote control designers and travel to all the moms in the world, this person on the internet has a humble suggestion

And Patrick got a little scared,

Augmented kitchen timing skills

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Sometimes you need more than one kitchen timer. Here’s hundreds.

Once again, the visual result was more surprising than the actual usefulness. A few lights and settings, and the timers looked too real to be true.

Once again, the internet weighs in on the usefulness. This one from Peter is mindful.

Okay, let’s solve this ergo beef. You could set up an iPad.

But maybe it’s more of an idea for oven door manufacturers? Touch display panel instead of window, depth cameras on the inside.

That’s a render. You can tell because it looks worse than AR, and it took ages to make.

Here’s how it works in case you have an oven factory.

Augmenting mural painting skills

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This was an accident that would not have happened in Sketch. When a prototype accidentally hit a whiteboard, it was obvious what to do: trace the lines and make a perfect whiteboard drawing.

Brad had some fun with it

Here's a large one:

Grab the source code for any of these demos from my Github profile if you want to play along. While they certainly didn’t pass the usefulness tests, it was fun talking about them. Maybe we augmented each other’s augmented reality skills.

I tweet here.

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Remote control instructions in AR

This app shows a pre-made layer of instructions on top of a remote control. Anyone who's ever helped their mom using the remote control knows how hard it is. With augmented reality, we can layer anything on top of the real world, including stuff that helps moms using stuff. The layer could be animated, it could be live, or pre-recorded, or supplied by the manufacturer—or all of it, and even tailored for one specific person. A similar approach could also change the appearance of the remote co