Ina Fried

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Augmented Reality Industry Aims to Get Beyond the Hype

Laurent Gil is tired of seeing demos on what augmented reality can do in the future.

That’s not because he doesn’t believe in the potential of the technology. Indeed, the entrepreneur has built his entire company–Viewdle–around the promise of augmented reality. But Laurent says it is time to spend less time talking about pie-in-the-sky visions and more time showing what it can do for people now.

“There’s been a lot of hype around augmented reality,” he said. “A lot of hype usually is a good thing only in the beginning. Then at some point it becomes a question of ‘Does it make my life more useful?'”

Laurent says the industry is at an inflection point where it can now show real applications for the technology. “Showing a demo of what it can be is contributing to the hype,” he said. “Showing a product that is here today is what makes it a reality.”

Augmented reality applications, particularly on the phone, have already begun to make an impact. Word Lens, an iPhone app that translates signs on the fly, was an overnight hit. Other titles have proved popular in both the gaming and retail arenas.

Another popular arena has been applications that allow users to get more information about their location by pointing their phone as they head into an area. Gil said he is not totally sold on that approach. Having to walk down the street while staring at one’s phone, he says, is not exactly natural.

“It’s just not normal,” he says. “It’s not normal enough.”

Augmented reality applications, he said, need to create user experiences that don’t make people totally alter their behavior. Among the areas he sees as taking good advantage of the capability today are gaming companies like Ogmento, which tap a user’s natural surroundings to inform the game but don’t require the player to do a whole lot of awkward motion.

In that case, he said, augmented reality “is a feature that brings reality inside of a game.”

Meanwhile, Gil’s company, Viewdle, plans next quarter to introduce a free Android app, which gives users the ability to recognize and tag who is in the viewfinder, then to share the image with people in their social graph via social networks, social media, email, MMS or SMS.

Gil will be among the participants in a CTIA panel I am moderating on Tuesday addressing the opportunities and challenges of augmented reality. Also on the panel will be Bruno Uzzan of Total Immersion as well as Jay Wright of Qualcomm and Ogmento CEO Ori Inbar.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik