Geek to Chic: The Cultural Branding of Augmented Reality Experiences

Since I wrote about the user experience of augmented reality less than two weeks ago, the most important development is the arrival of augmented iPhone apps (unofficially for the moment, officially in September).

Why is this so important, when Wikitude and other AR Android apps have been available for almost a year?  Bringing augmented reality to the iPhone changes the cultural assumptions made about AR experiences as a class of offering. Endorsing AR experiences for iPhone users moves augmented reality from the geek realm of Android and Google, to the chic world of Apple.  Culturally, the assumptions we make about the new products and services from Apple and Google are driven largely by the differences in way we perceive the two brands.  Apple is chic, while Google is geek.

Looking Ahead

Connecting the Apple brand to augmented experiences will persuade many people to try out AR.  Yet as I've said, and many others as well, getting the user experience of augmented reality 'right' is absolutely the critical element to the long term viability of this new class of experiences.  This entails two efforts.

First, designers must refine the experiences offered by all those AR applications based on the four classic interaction patterns known so far - Head-Up Display, Tricorder, Holochess, and X-ray Vision.  Two factors make refinement essential: competition from other AR offerings that reduces the novelty value of your experience, and increased 'load' on the UX in the form of actual use for everyday purposes in the complex setting of real life.  Think about trying to choose where to get lunch for the afternoon by sorting through 1500 listings for coffee shops and restaurants while standing on a street corner in the rain in London holding your phone aloft.  The functional aspects of AR experiences just aren't refined enough to handle the interaction design, visualization, and contextual sensitivity challenges implied. [Prediction: AR usage cases will naturally settle on a set of common scenarios that balance the strengths and weaknesses of each of the four classic patterns.  More speculation on that in a later post.]

Second, designers must address the gaps in the set of concepts now used as the basis for imagining new augmented experiences.  I flagged six 'missing' patterns in the range of experiences offered so far; Loner, Second Hand Smoke, Pay No Attention To the Man Behind the Curtain, The Invisible Man!, Tunnel Vision, and AR for AR's Sake (see the article for details).  I'm sure the very savvy readers of this blog can identify even more.

I hope all the AR innovators, designers, and entrepreneurs working hard on the crest of this breaking wave of technology find ways to take on both of these tasks.  If they can't refine the existing models and fill in those experience gaps, then neither Apple chic nor Google geek cred will suffice to make augmented reality viable in the long term.  And what could literally be a new way of seeing the world - one with legitimate potential for changing our behavior with regard to urban spaces, the environment, social structures, play, and economics, among just a few spheres of human activity - will remain little more than a camera obscura style curiosity.

Related posts:

  1. "Interaction Design For Augmented Reality" In ReadWriteWeb Mar­shall Kirk­patrick of Read­WriteWeb links to Inside Out: Inter­ac­tion Design...
  2. "Inside Out: Interaction Design for Augmented Reality" Live @ UX Matters I’m very happy to announce that Inside Out: Inter­ac­tion Design...
  3. Social Interaction Design for Augmented Reality at the Web and Beyond Thanks to all who came to the Muziekge­bouw on a lovely...
  4. Video of 'Social Interaction Design for Augmented Reality' from TWAB 2010 The good peo­ple at Chi Nether­lands just posted video of...
  5. Where 2.0 Panel Presentation "The Next Wave of AR: Social Augmented Experiences" I’ve posted my slides for the Where 2.0 panel “The...

Category: User Experience (UX)
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3 Responses to “Geek to Chic: The Cultural Branding of Augmented Reality Experiences”

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