And why should companies be interested in it? "It's a new medium that connects the real world with the virtual." He says. "It's an immersive technology." And that immersion brings with it immersive opportunities for a brand to connect with their customer.
Perhaps we should backtrack a little bit and explain what AR is. To put it simply, it's where computer graphics are overlaid on an image of the real world. It's not completely new - think of sports matches on TV. Say a tennis game where they show you a slowed-down image of a serve and a computer-generated line tracks the path of the ball. That's a computer-generated graphic laid on top of a real image and - boom - that's Augmented Reality.
The potential for AR has taken off since the laptops with webcams and smartphones with cameras and internet connections have gone mass-market. There are two basic sorts of AR - ones that smartphone users can see: where they point their camera at a street, look at it through the screen of their phone and see information (perhaps about nearby cafes) overlaid on the image of the street. An example is the Google Googles app on Android phones, there are many similar things on iPhone. The second type of AR is where you hold something up to a computer's webcam and it adds a computer graphic to what it sees in front of it. An example is the Florence and the Machine edition of Grazia mentioned above.
We asked Howard what brands are currently using AR in their campaigns and if there were any particularly successful examples: He told us that brands using AR include: Adidas, Nike, Iron Man 2, Avatar, Ikea, Lego, Hugo Boss, Esquire Magazine, Pacha (club), Yellow Pages, Universal and Google. And as for successful examples, he mentioned two: "One is a Lego kiosk which - when presented with a lego box in front of the camera - shows the completed model on screen. The camera in the kiosk is programmed to recognize the shape and pattern of the box which triggers the 3D model on the screen. Another is The Funda Real Estate Locator on Layar (on smartphones). It helps you find property for sale and rent in your location. http://www.augmentreality.co.uk/funda-layar.html"
Howard forsees that all brands will be using AR in the next 5-10 years, but the question remains will these be driven by digital agencies? Or will customer publishing companies build apps around content? While it is highly likely that the digital agencies will be deploying the format in unique and innovative ways, customer publishing companies could also use AR in a number of applications. In the short term the most obvious way is to integrate AR into print publications and ape the work that Grazia and The Sun are doing by linking video to printed content. So for example a supermarket magazine could add AR so that when a reader pointed a webcam or iPhone at the page which then kicks off video content for recipes etc. There are also huge opportunities for car companies to link videos of their autos in action as well cosmetic companies producing how to videos which are linked to pages in a magazine. The content doesn't necessarily have to be video driven either. Taking the concept a stage further publishers could use the AR browser for the iPhone like Layar, to deliver unique applications for their audiences. A recent example fo this was the Cadbury's Creme Egg AR app which built a competition around the egg floating in front of prominent London buildings.
The big question for brands is whether AR via printed magazines is a real and powerful way to connect with companies or just a gimmick. Only time will tell. Ultimately though there are good AR apps and bad ones and Howard has strong opinions as to what makes a good AR app. "The metrics for judging a good AR app are similar to developing a 'traditional' app or website meaning is it a) useful or b) entertaining. With regards to the visual element, it is not as important as the experience right now, if the AR app serves no real purpose, even if it looks good it's unlikely it will be anything more than a gimmick used once. However, as consumers are becoming au fait with the technology, their expectations are rising. Fancy tech doesn't automatically make for a good user experience."
Howard Ogden runs Augment Reality - a business that makes AR applications.
See his website here: http://www.augmentreality.co.uk/
He was chosen by iPhone Augmented Reality platform Layar as one of their top 30 developers in the world and his project, the AR Beatles app was one of their top 5 projects chosen for their launch in Dec 2009.