Previously published on Psychology Today.com “Positively Media”
Sometimes when new technology is introduced, you get a glimpse of the future. The iPad was like that for me. Now Samsung is introducing the Galaxy Tab (tablet) on September 2. This time, the glimpse of the future comes from their marketing pitch not their product. The top item the Galaxy Tab offers those who want “more”? Augmented reality.
Samsung’s Galaxy is an interesting and slick entrant in the tablet field. Size-wise, it’s halfway between the size of a cell phone and an iPad with a screen big enough to see things without squinting. (I’ve heard the iPad called an iPhone for old people.) Personally, I really didn’t expect to like the iPad as much as I do, but I carry it everywhere. It’s pretty hard to be an Apple-killer these days, but Samsung got a couple of things right that Apple missed in the first generation: the camera/video function.
It is those added features that drive the sales pitch of the Galaxy Tab teaser promo video. However, the promo is more revealing about the changing media technology landscape than the attributes of the tablet. When the video asks the consumer “Need More?” It offers up augmented reality ahead of video calls and full web browsing.
Augmented reality bridges the Internet with the real world as a functional reality. It takes the information you can find on the Internet—from directions and prices to history—and superimposes it onto reality.
If you’ve seen the digital down lines on a football field, or Terminator vision, then you’ve seen applications of augmented reality. Augmented reality not only merges the information from the Internet with the real world, but it allows you to access information when and where you need it. And it does this for you while you are out in the real world. All this magic comes from easy to use, free software and a camera-equipped mobile phone with Internet access. Get restaurant reviews or comparison shop just by pointing your phone. Identify a plant, see what a London street corner looked like in 1890, find out when a building was built of if there is an office for rent. This is a tiny tip of the iceberg of how we will be able to think about communications in the not-so-distant future.
Augmented reality will be as disruptive a technology as Web 2.0 because it takes user-control of information and personal experience with technology to a whole new level. It makes information geographically and time relevant while access is totally geographically and time irrelevant.
By layering text, audio, video and images over reality, augmented reality enhances our understanding of how things work. It’s like getting to be a perpetual 2 year old, asking ‘what’s that?’ For some cool examples of using augmented reality like a time machine: see London’s Street Museum and History Pin.
Unlike other types of technology, augmented reality transforms the environment into an immersive learning ecology (even if you aren’t trying to learn something.) Creating an immersive environment has many advantages. In embodied cognition terms, we have many ways of manipulating the environment to help us think. Augmented reality allows us to off-load cognitive work onto the environment in all new ways. That leaves all kinds of brain ergs available for something more useful: synthesizing information, problem solving, reasoning, and planning. At a time when people are worrying about information overload, augmented reality is the ultimate filter. It will not show you the price of a latte in Tallahassee if you are in NYC. You are in charge. Your information is targeted, self-selected and self-relevant. Augmented reality is working through what
I think of as the “shiny penny” stage, full of exciting new-kid-on-the-block bells and whistles. Unless finding the closest Starbucks is a critical issue for you, it hasn’t been used much in prosocial or substantive ways, but that will come soon. (See, for example, Imagined Communities. ) The potential for environmental exploration and learning is extraordinary. Physical objects are often used in education: they convey meaning, relationships, provide opportunities for collaboration, and focus attention.
Augmented reality is powerful because it extends our ability to use the power of technology in our own environment. We can use it in a way that is not separate from the interpersonal communication space unlike many other technologies.Augmented reality is not separate from place. It is place. Place matters because it turns out that that most real-world thinking actually occurs in the real world. Not only that, but it happens in specific and complex environments with practical goals that relies on the interaction with, feedback from, and manipulation of real stuff.
Photos of of kids and StarWalk iPhone app from Gizmodo