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Augmented Reality – An Illustrated Beginner’s Guide to AR

So, what is augmented reality? In the ever-evolving field of technology you’d be forgiven for mixing up your VR with your AR whilst not having the AI to know what was going on!

The AR/VR market is currently estimated at $1.6 billion. (IDC)

As early as 1901, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Lyman Frank Baum, first mentioned the concept of an electronic display or visual aid that overlays data into real life. Essentially this ‘character marker’ as he called it, laid the foundation for augmented reality technology as it exists today.

Augmented Reality (AR)

It’s important to make the distinction early on between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

Virtual Reality (VR) is displayed or visualised by using virtual information that is created from existing or historical data and is completely computer generated. Interaction is much more limited.
Augmented Reality (AR) is technology that superimposes a computer-generated image onto a user’s view of the real world to enhance it, in real time. It’s much more immersive and allows more sensory interaction.
The technology itself relies on complex relationships between hardware, software and computer algorithms. There is an additional reliance on the speed and robustness of network connectivity.

Early progress and applications of both VR and particularly AR largely took place behind the curtains of commercial research and government development departments, where funding was readily available.

Fast forward to the present day of mass consumerism and Apple and Google (amongst others) are now competing fiercely to ‘out Patent’ each other. They aim to provide cutting edge customer centric experiences that move beyond the early AR adopters in gaming and video.

Who Uses AR?

Without realising you’ve probably already used it. If you’ve ever given yourself rabbit ears on an app with overlaying frames or special effects, then you’re part of the movement.

In 2016, augmented reality had an epiphany and came crashing into the hearts and minds of millions and millions of people around the globe.

The craze for collecting cuddly creatures with the ground breaking ‘Pokemon Go’ app filled newsfeeds and newsrooms around the world.

It quickly became a cultural phenomenon and paved the way for immersive gaming and other similar mainstream applications.

Just a few years earlier, in 2013, Googles much anticipated Google Glass lasted only 2 years in the consumer market. Priced at an eye watering $1500 and with no competitor in the market, the product was rejected. Consumers simply decided they didn’t need them.
$1500 anyone?

In fairness to Google they took it on the chin (no doubt helped by their bottomless money pit) and utilised AR in subsequent product. Learning from their mistakes led to releases including Google Maps, Measuring Tools, Translate and Lens.

Before, during and after the Google debacle, AR and VR Headsets continued to be really popular for both consumers and commercial enterprises. Massive brands such as Oculus, HTC and Microsoft have continued to make significant investment. This has fuelled growth in areas such as medical and military training.

The Augmented Reality App Explosion

Virtual reality apps such as gaming apps are much more prevalent than the augmented reality ap. However, increasing adoption by retail, educational and entertainment sectors and consumer demand is starting to redress the balance.

The continuing ecommerce explosion has seen numerous apps hit the Android and Apple download stores and consumers are learning. The IKEA Place app allows you to see exactly how new furniture will look in your home without you having to visit the store.

Apps are out there that will allow you to see how new clothes look without trying them on and make up without having to paint your face – or leave the house! Immersive and interactive applications are re-invigorating educational experiences.

They can help introduce children (and adults!) to fun methods of learning whilst at the same time encouraging family time, exercise and exploring the great outdoors. Perhaps the biggest challenge here is to develop products that allow children to learn independently without reliance on parental devices.


Annotations, interaction and learning are all coming together. Engagement and awareness through apps take children on fun and exciting educational journeys.

The technology has existing uses and further potential applications in the military, emergency response, tourism, healthcare, entertainment and much more. The coming years will be an exciting time for more innovation.

The Danger of AR

The ever-prevalent issue of Privacy will be a concern as this technology evolves more into the mainstream.

The integrity of developers should ensure that consumer protection is always adhered to. But it is an incredibly complicated, complex and evolving industry to try to regulate. It will be interesting to see how governments and regulatory bodies apply and monitor legislation. Then it’s a question of if the public will be willing to put their trust in them.

The Future of Augmented Reality Technology

70% of media planners want to add AR to their strategies in the future according to Vibrant Media.

AR is already sharing space with Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality and Hyper Reality. AR and VR revenue is forecast to reach $80 billion to $90 billion by 2023 in the USA, according to AR/VR adviser Digi-Capital. This inevitably means there will be a lot of Silicon Valley based companies with the gloves off, competing for pieces of the pie.

Further progress will be very much dependent on everyone playing nicely. The ultimate goal should be to create a smooth, seamless and uninterrupted multi-platform experience for end users. Whether the big boys allow this to happen remains to be seen. It would be a shame to see innovators put off by prohibitive costs.

Trusting the technology is as important for a kid discovering virtual objects, like an otter by a river, as it is to a brain surgeon trying to locate the hypothalamus. The end user will ultimately determine the future of AR and that’s the reality of it.

What do you think the future holds? Is all this an inevitable path that technology is taking us down or do we all need to slow down and take a step back?