Augmented Reality: Open, Closed, Walled, or What?

Joel Ludwig recently blogged about augmented reality being open, a brief history of the web, and a number of observations and problems. He mentioned on twitter he would be interested in hearing what I thought, as well as a few other bright folks in the industry. Ok, Joe, here are some quick, late at night, after a long day, half brain-dead reply. I’ll probably want to edit this later : )

First, let me preface this all by saying that in general I prefer open systems that are extensible and expandable, which also facilitate the development, creation, design, and deployment of content, applications, and so forth by other people. If you intelligently empower the end-user, you accelerate market penetration and user adoption.

Ok, now the fun stuff:

When I talk about augmented reality, I am usually referring to it with a much wider scope and definition than simply 3D objects on a video feed. Rather, I mean something that is also in the realm of ubiquitious/pervasive computing, mobile internet devices, wearable displays, and all of the other fun stuff. I realize that some of this extends beyond the usual definitions of AR and into other spaces, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m grouping it all together.

Some comments:

  • Augmented Reality is not a destination.
    • You go to a website, or you go to a virtual world, or you download content from somewhere else. AR is not somewhere you go to…it is everything around you, enhanced, augmented, intelligent, interactive, and dynamic.
  • Augmented Realityis not global, it is local.
    • AR content in Times Square is irrelevant to AR content at the Eiffel Tower.
  • Augmented Reality is not 2D or 3D;
    • AR content has other dimensions and axis…like time, context, and location. Simply taking a photograph or a 3D model and associating it with a GPS coordinate is not enough.
  • Augmented Reality is not an extension of the web;
    • AR is something completely different. Thinking about it in the same way we think about the internet or web pages as far as methods, business models, and interface is a fundamentally wrong approach.
  • The consumer is not anonymous.
    • On the internet, you can be anyone. AR, if implemented properly, is going to be accessed via a mobile device (in most cases), and each mobile device is going to have unique identifiers, and will be personal to the user (like your smart phone)
  • The consumer is not a credit card number.
    • Due to some of the benefits of mobile as the 7th mass media, consumers can no longer be considered as just a credit card number and a shipping address. AR, if done right, will leverage the power of WHO you are, as well as the other things like WHERE you are, WHAT you are doing, WHO is nearby, etc.
  • The browser may be the wrong metaphor or model for AR.

Would you say the internet and the web are open, or restricted to walled/closed platforms? We only have a handful of browsers with any real market share (various versions notwithstanding), one gorilla search engine, three dominant operating systems, etc. The web is not as open as we think it is. We are at the mercy of ICANN for domains (how many millions of domains are wasted and useless because of cash parking?). Mobile phones are restricted to operator networks. E-commerce is ultimately controlled by credit card companies, gouging us on fees and interest. Apple is locked up tighter than (insert something funny here). Windows is bloated and expensive. Spam is so intrusive and overwhelming and has been for so long that we don’t even notice how bad it is anymore.

I think what I’m trying to say here is that everything changes with AR and we can’t assume the old methods and models that work for the internet, the web, or half a dozen other industries will work as well or even be passable for AR. I also don’t think that there will be one singular platform, one mobile device, one browser, etc.

What will likely happen is that we will experience a flurry of competing platforms, browsers, devices, etc. etc. and tons of formats. Eventually some type of protocol that governs how the data is all sorted out will win, and there will be tons of tools, apps, SDKs, and APIs to create content and other apps. All of the access devices (smart phones, sensors, hardware, etc.) will eventually become a commodity, like the PC is today. AR will simultaneously be open and closed at the same time…much like the internet is, or the PC industry is. And that is about where all of the similarities stop. One danger to watch out for is the virtual world model…where you need to download some custom application every time you want to experience new content.

AR is something new and it will be the centerpiece of a convergence of a multitude of other technologies. We need to keep things open while keeping them closed at the same time. Too much of one or the other will spell disaster.

The standards of the internet and the web today, including all of the communications protocols may not be the best solution for the ultimate mobile ubiquitous augmented reality. Square pegs do not always fit in round holes. Sure, some things like HTTP or KML will be useful early on as we experiment, iterate, and grow, but ultimately the inherent nature of the data, experience, and interaction we are talking about for AR will surpass these standards designed for a two dimensional old media link and page driven model.

We have only begun to imagine what is possible and how to get there. To be sure, we, as an industry, are going to make some mistakes along the way, and it will take a lot of baby steps until we can achieve the “big vision”, but we are all hungry for it and anxious to innovate and aspire for something great. Let’s keep the conversation going, and make sure that some 800lb gorilla doesn’t drop some backwards ass bloated user-unfriendly mega-expensive, buggy as hell, augmented reality solution on our heads before we notice it.

I need some sleep. I’m starting to see polygons floating in front of my eyes.