Other AR Apps
Pokémon GO is the most popular of the smartphone-based AR apps. Yet there are others that have been quietly available, some for years.
Niantic (niaticlabs.com), the company that makes Pokémon GO, offers two additional free apps, available for Android or iOS, that use augmented reality. The first is Field Trip, which alerts smartphone users to points of interest around them. The other is the precursor to Pokémon GO: Ingress, a massively multiplayer online (MMO) location-based game, uses GPS to engage players on missions against each other’s teams. Ingress debuted in 2012.
Snapchat quietly entered the augmented reality arena with its Lenses feature, which lets users add dog ears and other filters to their selfies and even to swap faces with others (support.snapchat.com/en-US/a/lenses1). Those who prefer a pretty face to a silly virtual one may try the free Makeup Genius app from L’Oréal. It superimposes makeup looks on a live camera view of your face, allowing you to try on dif ferent products and looks and to click through to buy the makeup. (It does smoky eyes and bold lipstick well, but unfortunately does not include concealer for those under-eye bags!)
Since 2009, Yelp has offered an AR feature within its app called Mon ocle. Monocle turns on the smartphone camera and superimposes listings for nearby restaurants. All these apps are available for free download for iOS and Android.
Still, as Sunny Dhillon sniffs, “Current generation smartphones do nothing to dynamically make sense of the world around them through computer vision or depth sensing. … 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. Pokémon GO is a location based game, not an AR game” (“Stop Referring to Pokémon GO as Augmented Reality,” VentureBeat, June 9, 2016; venturebeat.com/2016/07/14/stop-referring-to-pokemon-GO-as-augmented-reality).
Real Augmented Reality
If AR smartphone apps aren’t “real” augmented reality devices, what are? And how can we get one?
The first “true” AR device was Google Glass, the infamous appara tus mounted on a pair of eyeglass frames, that existed from 2012 to early 2015, when it was abruptly pulled from the market. The device could run web apps on its tiny screen and record events in the wearer’s vision. That raised privacy and distraction concerns: Google Glass was banned from movie theaters and Las Vegas casinos before it disappeared.
The AR device on the market now, albeit in beta version, is Microsoft’s HoloLens (microsoft.com/microsoft-hololens/en-us). Here is what Will Shanklin writes about this “pre-consumer developer hardware”: “Unless you’re a developer or filthy-rich early adopter, don’t buy HoloLens right now. Its app selection is still small, and the consumer version will al most certainly cost less and improve on other things” (“Microsoft HoloLens Dev Kit Review: A Peephole Into the Future.” New Atlas , Aug. 20, 2016; newatlas.com/hololens-review-developer-kit/45000).
Yes, the price tag is $3,000. Still, as Shanklin notes, “Not only does HoloLens overlay virtual objects on top of your real-world view, but it also knows where your floor, walls, lamps and tables are—letting virtual and real intermingle as if they were all bound by the same physical limits.” The HoloLens Development Edition encourages users to build apps for their “mixed reality” device. (Microsoft uses this term as opposed to calling it “augmented reality.”)
There is another AR gadget in the works: Magic Leap, from a “secretive” Florida-based startup (magicleap.com/#/home). It is said to project images directly onto the user’s retina, making them appear remarkably real in one’s view. Yet, as Rachel Metz writes, “It’s clearly incredibly hard to make this kind of stuff work in a convincing way on a headset—once you’ve figured out how to make good-looking virtual imag es, there’s the task of cramming all of the necessary computer hardware into a wearable device, making sure it looks good as the wearer is walking around, and figuring out a way to power it” (“Reality Check: Comparing HoloLens and Magic Leap,” MIT Technology Review , March 20, 2015; technologyreview.com/s/535806/reality-check-comparing-holo lens-and-magic-leap). Still, we can look forward to stunning advances in AR in the coming years.
I come home from work and greet my son. “Why are you holding an icepack to your cellphone?” “I was playing a VR game and it overheated,” he replies.
When he bought his Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge last March, he took advantage of its offer of a free Gear VR headset. (Normally, the Gear costs about $100.) He snaps his phone into the front of the headset and then buys games available through the Oculus Store (oculus.com) or videos from Facebook 360. (Facebook bought the Oculus startup in 2014.) The games consume heaps of storage and processing power, hence the overheating of the phone after 30 minutes of play.
VR differs from AR in that it entirely covers the user’s field of view. Also, dedicated VR headsets, unlike the smartphone versions, must be hooked to a powerful gaming PC in order to handle the visual processing.
The standalone VR headset Oculus Rift became available for sale in March 2016 for about $600. Its rival, Taiwan’s HTC Vive (htcvive.com/us), came out in April 2016 for about $800. The Vive differs from the Rift in that it offers wand-like controllers that can be used as hands (or guns) and also has two “light boxes” that put the real space of the room into the VR experience.
A final way to experience VR via cellphone is Google Cardboard (vr.google.com/cardboard). For $15, Google will send you a fold-up viewer. Download the free Cardboard app (for Android and iOS) and slip your smartphone into the viewer to begin your VR experience on the cheap. Google recently announced plans to release Daydream, a combination store and operating system for virtual reality content.
You may think that AR and VR are just for playing games (or even looking at porn!). Yet, AR via HoloLens is already being used for instruction over the web via Skype. VR is being used to help the very elderly cope with their restricted circumstances (“Virtual Reality Aimed at the Elderly Finds New Fans,” Kara Platoni, NPR, June 29. 2016; npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/29/483790504/virtual-reality-aimed-at-the-elderly-finds-new-fans). Oculus Rift has even been used to help paraplegics regrow nerves to regain partial functioning (“Paraplegics Are Learning to Walk Again with Virtual Reality,” Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz, Aug. 15, 2016; qz.com/757516/paraplegics-are-learning-to-walk-again-with-virtual-reality).
I am personally looking forward to the day when I can search for a book in the OPAC, slap on my HoloLens, and look up to see exactly where it is in the library. O brave new world that has such gadgets in’t!