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Losing Touch with Reality

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Wikitude's CEO Martin Herdina on Augmented Reality, smartphones, and Google Glass.

The mash-up of augmented reality (AR) and smartphones is just another example of how fast technological advances with potentially huge socioeconomic ramifactions are being made. In its simplest definition, AR is a technology that overlays text or graphics onto images, videos, or objects. The resulting hybrid can be viewed on a smartphone, tablet, or PC screen, and—most importantly—through dedicated wearable gadgets. Broadly speaking, augmented reality provides an altered reality where what you’re actually looking at might not be what you think it is.

The romance between AR and the smartphone is what we should all be gettig excited about in the short term. According to British research house Juniper, the increasing focus on incorporating AR elements within mobile applications will lead to nearly 1.4 billion annual downloads of such apps worldwide by 2015, up from just over 11 million last year. Although most AR apps currently in the market enable you to obtain information by pointing your phone’s camera at your surroundings, the future of mobile AR looks to be almost limitless, from holograms to interactive architecture.

REALITY CHECK

Wikitude is largely thought to be the best AR app in the market. Wikitude employs the concept of AR by displaying information about a user’s surroundings through their smartphone’s camera. Venture caught up with CEO Martin Herdina, who believes, as advanced as they surely are, today’s smartphones don’t yet have what it takes to achieve the full potential of AR.

Do you think AR will be the next big thing in the world of mobile technology?

AR is the next big thing. I strongly believe that now and in the future, AR is and will be a supporting technology in many areas, such as business, tourism, and digital advertising.

But is enough attention being given to this emerging strand of technology?

We’re slowly getting there. AR was a big hype over the last three years, where all kinds of AR applications have been greatly publicized, including [Wikitude]. But it was all hype about what could be in the future. 2012 was a bit quiet, I would say, and things now are just beginning to pick up.

Some tech experts believe our current mobile technology does not support the needs of AR – both hardware and software. Do you agree?

To some extent. AR is a technology that always pushes hardware to its limits. That being said, all the time, resolution could not be good enough, processing power could not be strong enough, and memory could not be large enough. For the use cases that are out there today, the mobile technology that exists today is good enough. For the future, when every object, event, and person is merged in AR, then our current mobile technology is not enough.

What do you think of Google Glass?

I think Google did a great job with their Google Glass Project, which gave the entire industry a boost. We’re now in this phase of conversion from hype to use cases – actual applications that create value for the end customer.

Wikitude has grown to be one of the leading companies in the AR industry which already made strides with new ideas, use cases, and even apps, how does that make you feel?

I feel very proud. We’re still a very small company—we’re not more than 20 people—and we’re just beginning to generate profit. It is all very pleasing and flattering to see us on the same panel with IBM and Microsoft. We also worked with the Olympics committee as well as Budweiser, which is something we’re also proud of.

THE BEST FIVE AUGMENTED REALITY APPS

Wikitude

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Wikitude allows you to explore places, events, and activities that are close by. By pointing your smartphone’s camera toward a certain place, the app will display related information such as the nearest bus stop, tweets from that location, and even Instragram pictures taken there.

WorkSnug Pro

 3WorkSnugPro.png

WorkSnug Pro connects you to the nearest and best places to get some work done in the city. Simply point and move the phone and all becomes clear: cafes, libraries, business centers, etc. What’s really special about this app is that it scans for free WiFi networks around you. No more paying for Internet.

Theodolite

 4Theodolite.png

Theodolite overlays real time information about position, altitude, bearing, range, and inclination on the live camera image of your smartphone. While it’s not particularly useful in the city, the topographical scene that unfolds in front of you is just purely amazing. Who wouldn’t want to know how far away they are from the equator?

Sky Map

 5SkyMap.png

By using Sky Map, you can simply open a window on the night sky through your smartphone. The app identifies objects that appear in the sky and even allow you to search for them. Zoom in and out, and switch various layers such as constellations, planets, grids, and deep sky objects.

Ingress

 6Ingress.png

This is arguably the best app that makes use of AR – and probably the least useful. Ingress is a massively multiplayer online game that puts players into two main groups: the Enlightened and the Resistance, and both groups have to fight over real territories. You can collect power-ups and declare your reign on, well, the tiny dirt patch behind the dukkaneh in your neighborhood.

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