Still in the early stages of development, augmented reality (AR) technology can be used by developers looking to enhance the user experience with a tie-in to the real world, experts in the technology believe.

Developers will need to study applications and platforms that have already been created in order to determine how to utilize the technology for their brand, according to research analyst Jackie Fenn, a fellow at Gartner.  

She said that these applications need to determine first how they will create the mix between the real and virtual world: Will it be from a camera on a cell phone? Or will it be created on a desktop screen? These applications must then be tested to ensure that they are accurately depicting the text, images and other components correctly, instead of having text, for example, lying on top of a location or item designed to be showcased by the application, such as a sofa being transposed over an empty space in a customer’s living room.

“The most compelling applications, and how you add value, is by having a link to the physical world and helping users make a decision, like in the IKEA application that allows you to take a card from the store and bring it home, and then, with an application and a camera, visualize the sofa in your home in place of the card,” Fenn said.

Forrester senior analyst Thomas Husson, who authored a December report on AR, likes the definition of the technology set by Total Immersion, a company that developed the D’Fusion AR platform. The company defines AR as a technology that “integrates 3D objects into live video, and then the video is digitally processed and ‘augmented’ with 3D components,” according to its website.
In order for the app to be successful, Husson said it must add value to the experience and cautions that is “not always easy to deliver.”

The December report also said, “One of the key success factors that will unleash the potential of AR is to bring together developers on an open platform scalable across multiple operating systems.” To that end, Adobe and Total Immersion announced an alliance in November to create a universal platform for computers, one that didn’t require a plug-in, according to CEO and cofounder of Total Immersion, Bruno Uzzan.

He added that although Total Immersion already had a plug-in for desktop AR and a mobile application, some users did not want to use plug-ins for the desktop, which sparked the alliance with Adobe, “since Flash is the most widely used platform,” he said.

The platform is up and running and deals mainly with desktop screen displays. For mobile AR, Uzzan sees widespread adoption in the future, as mobile phones and tablet devices are shipped with better graphics equipment. Mobile AR is different because plug-ins are generally downloaded from individual app stores, so consumers are more likely to download multiple AR applications.

“The success of the Flash Platform is that it reaches users on desktops, laptops, phones and smartphones, tablets, TVs and other consumer devices,” said Emmy Huang, group product manager for Flash Player at Adobe. “The ultimate goal of our collaboration with Total Immersion is to help make the Flash Platform the choice for creating augmented reality apps for the broadest number of platforms.

“We’ve been working on AR technology for 10–12 years. For the first 10 years, [progress] was very slow, but for the last two it has been very fast because more devices are shipped ready for AR,” Uzzan said.

According to Uzzan, Total Immersion’s latest application for eBay wasn’t conceivable until the creation of a mobile phone with a high-quality front-facing camera and a high-quality display screen, such as on the iPhone 4.

Uzzan said retailers looking for a “new way to interact with their customers online and in store” would like this technology because it has the potential to allow consumers to try on items—clothes, furniture, perhaps even cars—without actually being near the item.

Like Husson, Uzzan also said that the market is not fully mature, but that it has a great potential to be used by a variety of businesses in the future. He said it may even play a role in television applications as more set-top boxes are shipped with video cameras.