Augmented Reality brings no benefits

AR doesn’t pass the ‘cost v. usefulness’ test, says Simon Clayton
Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR) are the latest shiny tech innovations to hit the events press, so, as usual, I thought I should dispel the myths and fallacies.
I've grouped AR and VR together because they will soon be referred to as one entity; Augmented Reality (the layering of information or images over the real world) and Virtual Reality (completely fabricated worlds) will merge to be one technique.

Most of the new technologies that I write about are seen as ‘ new’. But AR has been around for quite some time, so it's interesting that it is making a come-back. It has hit the press this year because Apple is launching ARKit – a new framework for creating AR content. Some of the biggest tech companies - Apple, Google, and Microsoft to name a few - seem sure that AR is going to take smartphones to the next level. This may sound amazing and many people are saying that it will take AR out of the realm of gamers and into the mainstream and then into the events industry.

Imagine a world in which you simply look at a London street through your phone and your screen overlays useful travel information such as where the nearest tube station is, or puts arrows on the pavement beneath your feet to direct you to the No.

6 bus stop. It sounds great doesn't it and just what the busy business traveller needs? But you don't have to imagine it. TFL actually introduced this app back in 2010. It did indeed look great and lots of people (including me) were initially excited by the idea, but did anyone actually use it? What looks good on paper sometimes does not translate well into reality. Every smartphone has Google maps which we use to navigate.

We like maps because we have been using them for decades and we are accustomed to how they work. For a new technology to replace an old, it has to offer an incremental benefit to the user. CDs came and replaced the cassette and the vinyl record, but the mini disk just didn't offer enough benefit for users to upgrade. The humble London A to Z was dropped when every smartphone contained a map, but the move to the TFL AR App just didn't offer enough benefit to users. Who wants to hold their phone aloft and look like a ‘proper tourist’ as they navigate the streets of London? Not I, and obviously not a lot other people, which could be another reason why the app wasn't used.

AR will not give a tangible benefit to events, so it will not be adopted. An organiser could overlay information on to an exhibition stand or a conference backdrop that could only be seen through AR, but then the organiser risks alienating the (probably very large) section of the audience who can’t be bothered to download the app and view the event through it. Apple’s ARKit will be supported by the 2017 iPad, the iPhone 6S onwards, but that still leaves millions of users with older hardware unable to access AR content built using this platform. It’s a barrier to audience engagement, so why would organisers use it?

The transient nature of events means that we aren’t often the best platform for new technology. The sort of tech that can be useful in a permanent setting such as an airport or shopping centre simply takes too long to construct and is too expensive to consider for a three-day gathering. The ‘cost versus usefulness’ factor should always be considered before employing any new technology.

Apple may be excited about it, but that doesn’t mean that it will take over the world. AR has been available on smartphones since 2010 when Layar was launched, but we haven’t seen a deluge of AR applications either in the events industry or even in the ‘real world’.

AR is a gimmick and a bit of fun; in the coming year we will see it used in all sorts of fun applications but that doesn’t mean that it will add any tangible benefit to our industry. AR didn’t transform the events industry in the early 2000s and it won’t now. Nothing has changed.

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