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Augmented reality has had a pretty interesting journey into mainstream culture over the past 18 months. Consider, for instance, that in the summer of 2016 you probably didn’t even quite know what it was!
Now, if you pay close attention to tech circles, you may have learned how to distinguish it. Basically, you can sum it up like this: virtual reality transports you completely into an animated environment, whereas augmented reality makes it appear as if animations exist in your actual environment. Oddly, I find “Wizard’s Chess” from Harry Potter to be a good way to think about it. VR Wizard’s Chess would mean entering a live game board like the characters did in the first film – walking on a chess board, taking part in the game, with pieces and players all around you. AR Wizard’s Chess would simply mean pointing your device at a table such that, looking through it, you would see a chessboard with live, animated figures.
That’s a distinction many of us didn’t quite have straight as VR was emerging in 2015 and 2016. Then everything changed just about overnight, with the release of Pokémon GO. It was the first widely released, mainstream augmented reality game that used nothing more than a phone to work, and it suddenly challenged us to wonder about how this tech could differ from VR. In the immediate aftermath of the game’s release publications as big as The Guardian asked, where does augmented reality go next?
As it turns out, the answer was: all over the place! It took some time, but a little more than a year after Pokémon GO came out, Apple and Google unveiled programs that made it easier for developers to make AR games. That led to puzzles, cartoonish shooting games, board and strategy games, and more on augmented reality. There are likely more of these games on the way, as well as games in other genres. Slots, for instance, are a category to watch; casinos have made 3D games that are in essence the same as video slots but with 3D elements practically built for AR. We should also keep an eye on successful VR titles that could be adapted for mobile devices the same way popular console games are, fitted for AR rather than VR. The possibilities are endless.
As stated though, the journey for AR has been interesting, and one of the most unexpected things about it has been how quickly it branched out beyond gaming. It may always be the games that generate the headlines and draw the most attention to this tech phenomenon. But there are plenty of experiences already available through AR that have little or nothing to do with entertainment. Interestingly enough, many of them instead deal with home design.
IKEA led the way in an increasingly deep connection between AR and home design, with the basic idea being that you can simulate your furniture and interior design through apps. Through the IKEA app and several others, you can use a phone or tablet to do everything from measuring space to visualizing a piece of furniture or a decoration in space. You simply hold up your device, look through it, and see that new couch in the corner, or a new lighting fixture on the ceiling, etc.
This may sound like a gimmick, but think about the convenience it affords you in designing your home or redecorating a room. Theoretically, there’s no more need for a tape measure, or for shuffling old furniture around to gain perspective on your dimensions. There’s no more need to bring furniture home and put it in place just to see if it works. AR can do all of this for you, such that when you’re ready to make a purchase or change up the room’s organization, you’re confident in your choice.
It’s been an unexpected result of a journey that started mostly with innovations in gaming. But AR is now an invaluable tool for home design and organization.
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