In 1992, researcher Tom Caudell coined the term Augmented Reality (AR). It’s an experience that supplements the real world with a virtual layer of information. Until recently, AR sounded like something from a cyberpunk novel. Some sort of cyborg capability that could go the way of PDAs and laser disks.
However AR doesn’t rely on wearable technology (e.g.Google Glass) – and considering the millions who’ve opted for Lasik, it’s hard to imagine people embracing a constant need to wear special eyewear. Even if the cost of Google Glass was more accessible, the fashion faux pas of unchic fashion is a major hurdle – not to mention something blocking your range of sight. That’s why there’s more to AR than just wearable devices.
Google claims it solved a common complaint of many internet users by engineering a faster, more reliable broadband network. Google Fiber boasts a download speed of a whopping 1,000 megabits per second.
The question posed during the workshop was: How might programs be improved once anyone can freely access the internet without limitation? The unfortunate answer amongst participants was that they had no idea what to do with ubiquitous high-speed broadband. They didn’t know what it meant but were grateful to have it.
Facilitating the workshop brought AR to mind as an important consideration for UX Designers. Once we’re no longer limited by broadband connections, it’ll be possible to design a smarter and more interactive modern world. I’m not convinced we’ll be walking around wearing special glasses or gear, but as services like Google Fiber change the broadband game, I see a modern world seamlessly enmeshed with technology.
We’re All Becoming Cyborgs
In 2012, Amber Case delivered a keynote at SXSW and spoke about AR as something valuable with a real purpose.
A cyborg anthropologist who spends most of her time thinking about AR, Amber believes mobile devices are becoming an extension of our brain. Amber contends that our phones are becoming an extremity of ourselves. She says:
“From earliest times, humans had tools like hammers that extended our physical self. Today’s technology extends our mental self. It’s changing the way we experience the world.”
Our phones already do so much more than make voice calls and send text messages. Case and other digital anthropologists track the use of technology to reveal that the tools may change but the behaviour does not. As the free e-book Interaction Design Best Practices by UXPin describes in the second chapter, you must always design faster and easier way to do simple things.
Technology must fulfill that criterion of efficiency (perhaps even laziness) if it wants to survive.
The Same Devices, More Interaction
More than likely, we’ll continue to use the same devices, but objects previously passive will become interactive. Genevieve Bell is an anthropologist who works at Intel and spends a lot of time thinking about technology and culture. During her SXSW panel discussion on User Experience Design Shaping Our World she shared:
“When I think about what smartness looks like in the future, we’re going to encounter devices that have never been smart before, like your parking meter.”
Essentially, everything will eventually have some sort of computer inside it.
Honeywell has recently created a UX team in Austin focused only on building more intelligent products. Consider:
- Would you eat better if your fridge had a built in computer?
- Could clothes be washed based on their care instructions by your smart washing machine?