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April 7, 2017
It's noisy in here! The coming problem of too many voice assistants

March 7, 2017
It may be time for a tech tax

February 17, 2017
Apple's transformation from bear to bull

January 13, 2017
Voice-controlled devices shift tech industry

2016 USAToday Columns

2015 USAToday Columns

2014 USAToday Columns
















USAToday Columns
TECHnalysis Research president Bob O'Donnell writes a regular column in the Tech section of USAToday.com approximately once every two weeks and those columns are posted here. These columns are also often reposted on other sites, including MSN and other publishing partners of USAToday.


April 25, 2017
Augmented reality: The disappointment is real

By Bob O'Donnell

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — At full strength, and in their original form, some of today’s newest technologies are mind-blowing examples of how fast the future is coming.

Concepts like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robotics all point to an exciting view forward, where technologies that only recently seemed like science fiction can start having a meaningful and (hopefully) positive impact on our individual lives, and society as a whole.

The problem is, achieving the “full” version of these technologies is proving to be more challenging than we were first led to believe. In retrospect, this development shouldn’t be terribly surprising, as many of these technological concepts are extremely complex. As a result, the process necessary to create them is bound to be arduous. And yet, for those of us who have gotten caught up in the excitement of these future tech visions, the disappointment is real.

Arguably, the latest and most extreme example of the dilution of these technologies has to do with augmented reality (AR). In its “purest” form, AR was going to (and eventually will) deliver an intelligent overlay on the physical world. The technology enables you to see computer-generated digital imagery superimposed on a real-world view. Best of all, it does so in a futuristic manner that greatly enhances, or augments, our view of the world.

Microsoft’s impressive HoloLens smart glasses and the AR experience it provides, for example, offers one of the most convincing way of feeling like you’ve been transported 10 years into the future.

The problem is that the acceptable bar for what can, or should, be considered augmented reality is dropping quickly. Lately, it seems almost anything that puts silly images over pictures or video is now being (unrightfully) elevated to the status of augmented reality. Because of that, I’m concerned that the real value or impact of the technology is going to fade, leading to a level of disappointment that could set the market back for some time.

At last week’s Facebook F8 developer conference, for example, the company talked a great deal about augmented and virtual reality, describing a number of futuristic concepts that it's working on. When it came down to the demos of what you can actually do now, however, it was essentially Facebook’s version of the popular Snapchat filters that let you put silly masks and other visual effects on photos and videos of people’s faces.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is fun stuff. Plus, it really does require what is arguably an extremely basic form of augmented reality: it has to recognize the location, size and shape of a real-world object (your face), and then overlay digital graphics that correspond with particular spots on that object, even as you move. But honestly, for most people other than selfie-obsessed teenagers and 20-somethings, it doesn’t offer much lasting value.

Plus, I do find it interesting that when Snap Inc. first offered these capabilities, it didn’t trumpet them as being a form of augmented reality. It was just doing fun, real-time camera effects.

Looking ahead, there’s a great deal of speculation that Apple will be bringing some kind of augmented reality experiences to future products. While initially it was thought Apple would do some type of Microsoft HoloLens-like AR glasses (and it probably will at some point in the future), increasingly looks like it will provide a near-term offering via iPhones.

Unlike the Facebook (or Snapchat) technology, however, which only works with basic 2D cameras found on all smartphones, I’m expecting Apple’s solution to be more like Google’s Tango technology, which requires multiple cameras to help capture depth information. (Remember that the iPhone 7 Plus has, and likely future iPhones will have, multiple cameras.) This is a critical difference, because it allows the phone to capture and then recreate both a more realistic “view” of the world it’s looking at, as well as potentially create a significantly wider and more relevant range of overlaid objects.

In other words, an implementation of a multi-camera AR technology should be able to provide a better experience across many more applications. Imagine, for example, being able to have the equivalent of a museum sign or guidebook on the phone screen in front of you, not only as you walk through and point your phone at objects in a museum, but at all kinds of objects anywhere around the real world. That’s the kind of compelling vision that augmented reality ought to provide.

Whether or not Apple delivers that kind of technology remains to be seen. However, if the tech industry isn’t careful about maintaining some kind of minimum requirements for advanced new technologies like AR, there’s a very real concern that the diluted versions currently proffered as the “real thing” might lead to the kind of disappointment and disinterest that previously overhyped products like smartwatches are now facing.

Given the potentially enormous impact that technologies like augmented reality should have, that would be a horrible shame.

Here’s a link to the original column:https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2017/04/25/augmented-reality-disappointment-facebook-snapchat-microsoft/100836274/

USA TODAY columnist Bob O'Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. His clients are major technology firms including Microsoft, HP, Dell, and Qualcomm. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.