Augmented reality on iPhone delayed, but hardly prevented

Recently there’s been an onrush of news and Web searches for augmented reality (AR), for the fist time surpassing interest in its cousin, virtual reality. Think Artificial’s article on a prototype AR toolkit for the iPhone saw a 224% visitor increase and was cited in a CNET News article.

Google trend for augmented reality search in July 2009 - searches are surging
[NOTE: Above is a snapshot for July '08 to July '09;
See current 12 month trend]

Several AR apps hit the market and the now-famed Dutch augmented reality Web (and browser) caught more media attention than anyone expected. But augmented reality is barred from the optimal mobile device: the iPhone’s own development suite doesn’t allow access to vital components.

Officially, Apple’s iPhone SDK does not offer access to any APIs for manipulating live video, forcing developers to use the available but unsupported ones instead. That’s a shame because as you can see, there are a lot of unique concepts out there for implementing Augmented Reality on the iPhone. [...] However, there’s still hope. According to some hearsay out there, Apple is interested in enabling these types of apps. [ReadWriteWeb]

There’s no question that Apple realizes the potential of AR and their position to dominate the market. The iPhone’s media attention and hardware power can make for a Walt Disney of augmented reality.

Having correctly predicted the type- and date of debut of the first mainstream AR application, the oracle speaks again—let’s see if I get this one right:

Before September 15th 2009, one of the following two events will occur

  1. Apple releases initial support to iPhone augmented reality applications.
  2. Apple announces an extension to the the iPhone SDK, specifically intended for augmented reality app development.

Look into the all-seeing eye.EDIT (August 13th 2009): This prediction was correct. Only 11 days after I posted this prediction it was announced that Apple’s iPhone OS 3.1 will support augmented reality applications—expected release is in September (as predicted). See further details in Correctly predicted: Augmented reality support in iPhone OS 3.1

Will augmented reality on the iPhone accelerate development of wearable displays?

The iPhone did the impossible and brought back head-mounted displays (HMDs)—often known as virtual reality goggles. Many modern HMDs are now relatively cheap—the pricetag is no longer long enough to use as a belt—and, on occasion, the design is sleek. (They still suck, but keep improving.)

Mirage - an augmented reality humanoid seen through augmented reality specsUsing phones’ screens for augmented reality applications is literally like peeking through a keyhole. Demand for alternate interfaces increases as a result of mainstream AR, and the greatest of these are wearable displays; AR specs (see-through displays, shaped like glasses). These have been around for decades (image shows MIRAGEundergrad student project from 2002) but are still expensive as hell. Will the iPhone do for AR specs what it did for HMDs?

Importance of AR+wearable display interplay

The combination of wearable displays and augmented reality has countless uses. It’s important, in fact, with potential to revolutionize machine interfaces and manufacturing practices. Picture the following, for example: Desktop computer output (screen) can be overlaid onto reality like any other AR graphic, displayed in 3D as if they are sitting on a desktop.

Instead of buying two screens for a dual-screen setup at home, a student on a tight budget could buy AR specs. Through these he can display as many virtual computer screens as needed. If quality were to improve and price decrease, AR specs could serve as flexible, space saving, easy to transport and cheap alternative to any modern hardware display.

Augmented reality is not a type- or collection of applications. It’s a type of medium. In today’s economy, requiring cost reductions and preservation of resources, a future where a single gadget can replace several seems ever more likely. The boom of augmented reality is more probable than ever.

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5 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Actually, Apple pulled a fast one. All they did was release the API to allow access to the screen overlay. This is useless for most AR applications.

    The “AR” apps currently in the app store don’t even need the video. They are based on the GPS, compass, and accelerometers.

  2. Seems that the recently introduced iPhone 4 has removed all restrictions relating to live video access. In addition to the gyroscope, I’d say Apple’s gearing up for that long-coming AR market sweep. Exciting.

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