You Know What Really Grinds My Gears? Augmented Reality!

AR really grinds my gears!

AR really grinds my gears!

My last post was more about being rational, but this post is more about being raw and emotional.  I wanna make two points that really grind my gears about so called “Augmented Reality” apps we’re seeing these days.

1. What really grinds my gears about “Augmented Reality”:  It really fucking SUCKS!

There I said it.  By “Augmented Reality,” I mean those iPhone and Android apps I mentioned in the previous blog in their current incarnation.  And if you really think they’re useful, I will respectfully argue you’re full of shit.  Get a REAL use case, and try a comparison with Google Maps.  If you still think those “Augmented Reality” apps are still more useful, then I’d again respectfully argue that you are a delusional fuck.

Please don’t get me wrong — I’d *love* to see those guys succeed.  I’m just saying there’s a lot of work to be done at its current state, and they really need to differentiate the functionality from all other local search and mapping applications beyond the video-overlay eye candy.

2. What really grinds my gears about “Augmented Reality”:   HYPE will KILL the industry.

Just like “Artificial Intelligence” and “Virtual Reality,” or any other technical buzz words that were hyped waaaaaaay beyond their technological capabilities, the current AR hype will kill the future of AR industry.

Let’s take a look at what happened to Artificial Intelligence (AI).  From late 50’s on, the buzz words “AI” was coined and researched by amazingly brilliant minds.  For one reason or another, too much hype followed too much funding, and eventually too much promises and vision could not be realized, even today.  It’s cuz the vision was great, but the technology didn’t exist yet!

Nowadays, we see AI-inspired applications everywhere, e.g. Pandora’s music recommendations, Amazon’s “you might also like,”  and even facial recognition algorithms — these are in one form or another inspired by AI.  But the problem is no one uses the word “AI” anymore.  In fact, some avoid it like a plague.

AI is still not realized today according to Isaac Asimov’s definition.  But this does not mean AI-inspired technologies aren’t useful.  In fact, they are. I would even venture out to say that if the hype was minimized and expectations set properly, perhaps there would be more overall stream of funding to advance these technologies much beyond what we have today.  (Rule of thumb:  If you hear, “but we should be able to do that in 10 years,” then, shit, you ain’t got no solution.)

Similarly, AR is not realized today as defined by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling.  But we should be able to do this in 10 years, right?  I wouldn’t bet on it.  Gibson and Sterling are futurists — they can beautifully write scenarios and use cases that are really quite useful and believable for the future.  And these use cases really should drive technology to make our lives for the better.  BUT that doesn’t mean that these technologies CAN be realized.

I would argue that the forefathers of AR, did and do have the right idea (pls read the last blog post).  I still think we need to continue to expand/expound on vision algorithms (e.g. image tracking, image detection/recognition, etc.) and couple that with other sensors (e.g. Wifi, RFID, Bluetooth, accelerators, gyros, GPS, compasses, etc.) to more precisely tell people what they’re seeing in an interactive and augmented sense.

The level of precision provided by current apps are good from a mapping perspective (i.e. the 2D “aerial” view), but not good enough from a first-person’s ground perspective.  (I will definitely write another blog more on the technical short-comings.)

I think that AR has been over hyped many years ago, and I don’t want to see any over-hyping done today or the future anymore.  Perhaps, we need to reset people’s expectations somehow, or rebrand the words to something else.  Because I really do think that there’s plenty of use for AR-inspired technologies as being defined by Layars and Wikitudes of the world.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Shit, I believe in AR.  Just don’t fucking kill it…  (Sorry about my fucks and shits.  I told you it was going to be emotional..)

About Mok Oh

Chief Scientist, PayPal View all posts by Mok Oh

28 responses to “You Know What Really Grinds My Gears? Augmented Reality!

  • Dave P

    Gotta say I am in the same love/oh fuck state with this. Have friends who are gaga. But the hype is both overwhelming (among the cognoscenti) and absolutely ignored by the general populace.

  • Lee Evans

    Hey Mok,

    Interesting post to say the least. So what do you think drives the hype in AR? What do you think the solution is to reducing the hype in marketing AR or any other new technology/system/service? Do you have any best practices that you use to ensure the useful utility of a project/technology prior to its release to the intended audience?


    • Mok Oh

      Great questions, Lee. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers — just another person’s opinion.

      I think multiple things drive the hype in AR — money, money, and possibly money. Could also be some other sources of evil, like pride. But more seriously, I don’t know.

      As for your second question, rebranding might work. AI might be a good analogy. No one uses “AI” anymore.. or no sane marketing person would. But things like “image recognition” or “fuzzy logic” seem to have worked. Perhaps we should call it “Augmented Video.”

      As for your third question, my bias is to have multiple short bursts of iteration with customers. But that’s a whole another topic.

      Thanks, Lee. Hope my 2 cents are worth more than a couple of pennies.

      • Lee Evans

        Mok, thanks for your response.

        Seems like the hype of AR is about the same as any other new product coming onto the market. It’s pretty obvious in the current AR world there are some players with cash in hand that need to justify their existence by identifying or creating a market for their products so they can get more $$$$s to actually make it all work “as shown”. But the same type of unsubstantiated hype can be found in the iPhone 3Gs “Skateboard” commercial where it looks like I can shoot some excellent (broadcast quality) video and quickly edit it right on my iPhone. Of course that’s until I read the commercial’s small fine print that says “Auto-exposure altered” and “Sequences Shortened”. Does Apple really need more $$$s in the bank, I doubt it.

        On the second question, I agree that sometimes rebranding works, but in the case of AR, it looks like all the current players have decided that “speed to market” is more important than true functionality. I doubt that is the preferred route of the technical people building the apps, but I’m sure they want to generate revenue just as much as the marketing/sales depts. do.

        Q3, Don’t think I worded that one correctly. I truly understand the aggravation when “new and improved” does not result in better functionality. But is there anything that you do or metrics you utilize at EveryScape to identify if your products result in a better/faster/more efficient/etc… experience than what your NON-paying target audience already has?


  • Mok Oh

    An interesting AR app:

    Why I say it’s “interesting” is cuz it “mashes” up social networking with AR. My bias…

  • Raimo


    I am Raimo CEO of Layar. I would like to send you a small demo APK for Android if you have an Android device..

    I think you will like it ;-)

    P.S. You can’t write about it. I know life sucks.. hehe

    • Mok Oh

      Hi Raimo,

      I don’t have an Android device (just iPhone) but I will take u up on that offer once I get a device. Always interested in what innovations r out there. Thank you for the offer.

  • Dave P

    Hey Mok, looks like you threw a rock into their pond! Got the big fish leaping. Go for it and let us know (privately)!

    Augmented video. Info overlay. Location Plus. HUD, but that’s too terminator/military/geeky. Anything but AR.

    • Mok Oh

      Hi Dave,

      Perhaps there are some ripples created. My intension was to share my POV and hope to help the innovation to continue to thrive.

      This is a public blog so we can definitely keep things private among the public. ;-)

  • Brian Rich

    Did you see Bruce Sterling’s talk Recorded at the Layar Launch Event on August 17th in Amsterdam? It had this kind of advice and lots more to the ppl at Layar on how to command their industry to be a powerhouse and basically “grow up”. From the video though, you see that no one was listening; they were all fiddling with their phones and laptops! Still, it was an awesome talk.

    And, right now, Bruce is into all things AR in a big way, as seen on his blog.

  • Alex

    Smaller scale mobile AR applications (tabletop) could become useful faster then world wide terminator vision. Last few years there were quite a few, but mostly using trackers user has to print, that kind of sucks (sorry for using the word, just inspired by the post :). Now more tracker-less mobile tabletop AR apps appear.
    You’ve likely seen games from int13 and AARGH demo. It’s a nice medium for games and education products (e.g. one education app and generic lib we are doing on Android).

  • Total Immersion and the “Transfigured City:” Shared Augmented Realities, the “Web Squared Era,” and Google Wave  | UgoTrade

    […] significant limitations, and it certainly does differ from some of the futurist dreams of AR (see Mok Oh’s post here on his disappointment in this regard), it is significant that Total Immersion is committing to becoming a leader in mobile […]

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  • nicklaus

    Agree with you Mok. Hopefully the real innovators like Layar won’t get sunk by all the fakers.

    • Mok Oh

      Tx, Nicklaus. There certainly are innovators on the UX side that can certainly make a difference here, since the tech side would be a while. And especially with mobile devices today, AR can definitely move from a gimmick status to actually-useful status.

  • Gaskell

    What is your crowning achievement at this point in life?

  • AK

    Thank you! Finally someone who agrees with me.. “Augmented Reality” my ass

  • MIke

    What do you make of ? Is that getting closer do you think?

    • Mok Oh

      Very cool. Nice idea. Very targeted marketing/ad angle is cool. Not sure if there will be enough eyeballs tho.

      I guess it all depends on what you mean by “closer.”

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    This post truly made my day. You cann’t imagine just how much time I had spent for this information!

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