Matrix effects, routes on your specs: what next for augmented reality? – The Guardian

Matrix effects, routes on your specs: what next for augmented reality? – The Guardian

Trying on clothes without stepping into a changing room, seeing your menu choices in 3D, viewing an art gallery’s contents outdoors and, of course, catching a Pokémon. This is the world of augmented reality, and one of its key players announced further additions last week.

The owner of Snapchat, the app that offers those quirky animal-face selfies, will give developers the ability to transform any local landscape or building. A user could scan Big Ben so it can be turned into a wobbly landmark when seen through a phone, or even put the Matrix in their living room.

While Mark Zuckerberg talks about an alternative world in the metaverse, the likes of Snapchat are getting on with transforming this one. “I think we’re starting to see some real fun around being able to play with the power to manipulate, change and edit our physical environments,” says Bobby Murphy, a co-founder and the chief technology officer of Snap.

For all the excited talk about the metaverse – the concept of a virtual world populated by digital representations, or avatars, of ourselves – augmented reality (AR) has been in our lives for years. AR is where a digital layer is put over reality, normally via your phone – although Snap recently unveiled whizzy spectacles that allow a similar experience. Think Pokémon Go, where players leave their living rooms to capture the characters outdoors, or Snapchat’s cartoon cat selfies.

The next step for AR, and where it starts to bump into woolly notions of the metaverse, is glasses that put a digital overlay on the world – as well as allowing users to film what they see (while igniting a whole load of privacy concerns). This year Snap unveiled spectacles with a proper AR overlay. However, these glasses are for a select few developers only and not for public sale, and have clear shortcomings such as a 30-minute battery life.

Glasses are where analysts see AR really taking off. Leo Gebbie, an AR expert at the research firm CCS Insight, sees a future where AR glasses screen street directions straight on to a pedestrian’s lenses.

“Rather than looking down at your smartphone … you’ll have a nice display in front of you that simply says ‘you are going to turn left again and then get on the bus that comes around the corner’. That’ll all be provided to you in real time rather than requiring you to have to interrupt your phone to do that,” says Gebbie.

He has tried the prototype Snap spectacles and says they have an “impressive” AR display but are “fairly heavy”, don’t look like normal glasses, and the battery life is too short. For AR glasses to really work, he says, they need to be lightweight, fashionable and clear various technical hurdles. CCS Insight forecasts that 71m virtual and augmented reality devices will be sold in 2025, with a market value of $22bn (£16.7bn), compared with 11m devices this year.

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