Is Augmented Reality the future of web development?

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  • In 1992 Tom Caudell, a researcher at the aircraft, space and defence manufacturer, Boeing, coined a phrase to describe a technology that many design experts are now convinced will change the future of web design (and other aspects of the internet, to boot) in the coming years – augmented reality. 

    But what is AR and how can it change an already rapidly evolving digital environment?

    What Is Augmented Reality?

    If you have heard of virtual reality – and who hasn’t these days – then you already know something about augmented reality.  Look it up on Google and you will see that augmented reality, in a nutshell, is taking a live worldview and superimposing computer-generated elements, such as sound, graphics, video or even GPS data, onto it.  The result is your real world enhanced with a digital overlay.

    So, how is this different to virtual reality? 

    Well, virtual reality creates an entirely separate, virtual world that a user “enters” in order to interact with, whereas augmented reality overlays the user’s real worldview with digital media or data in order to enhance the user’s interaction with the world around them.

    How will VR and AR change the web?

    Virtual reality is a technology that has been regularly overhyped, with the reality usually failing to meet the user’s expectations – until now.  With the recent advent of devices like the Oculus Rift, there has been a definite shift away from farfetched claims and towards a technology that is truly functional and useful – both with and without headsets.

    For example, there is already a virtual reality browser that lets users walk through a virtual lobby and visit websites by passing through a door.  Users then read the text of the website on the walls, while videos can play, and lights, sounds and 3D models can all be displayed.  Called Janus VR, it is gaining an ever-growing following.

    In a similar way, web developers are now beginning to recognition the potential of augmented reality, and are actively working to incorporate it into their websites and apps.

    More interaction through AR

    While many virtual reality technologies require users to have a dedicated device in order to interact with the virtual worlds, such as VR headsets, augmented reality has the advantage of being entirely deployable on existing devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

    In fact, we are already seeing smartphone users embrace augmented reality en masse thanks to the game that has become an instant obsession around the world – Pokémon Go.  This game uses the layering of computer-generated characters onto the reality around the player, resulting in a completely different (and more interactive) style of game play. 

    Going in a different direction, the car manufacturer Volkswagen is using AR for crash testing, enabling the company to see digital mock-ups of accidents overlaid on real vehicles in order to help find discrepancies.

    The future?

    There’s no doubt that VR and AR are going to play a big part in the future of web development.  Huge tech companies are already investing these areas – Facebook’s acquisition of the VR startup, Oculus Rift, and Apple’s acquisition of Metaio, an AR software company, are just two examples. 

    Now we just have to wait for these augmented dreams to become daily realities.


    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stuart Cooke is the Digital Marketing Manager at Cornell Studios, a digital agency based in Portadown. You can connect with him on Twitter @Cornelldigital or via his SEO blog.

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