Augmented Reality Microsites: First Impressions

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by: Ilya Vedrashko

Since I got my webcam upgraded anyway, I thought I’d do a follow up on the Augmented Reality is The New Second Life post and spend a lunch break looking at a few recent implementations of augmented reality in promo microsites.

I looked at Eminem’s Relapse UK microsite, GE’s Plug Into The Smart Grid, Nissan’s Good Decision, USPS’s Virtual Box Simulator, and two Star Trek promos at Join Star Fleet Academy and Experience the Enterprise. All these require that you print out a piece of paper with an image (a trigger) and dangle it in front of your webcam for something to happen. I also tried Ray-Ban’s Virtual Mirror (via Cory’s earlier post; the AR thing is tucked into the un-deep-linkable Flash), which draws glasses straight over your face.

Here are the notes and pictures I took. If you are on RSS and don’t see the slideshow, click over or see the pics on Flickr.

1. The good news: the wow factor is undeniable. I had colleagues standing over my shoulder commenting on how cool it was.

2. The bad news: it’s jaw-dropping only the first time you see it. After that it quickly regresses from "neat" to "meh".

3. The usability of most implementations is pretty horrendous. You have to hold up a letter-size piece of paper in front of your web cam just so or the whole animation goes away, and then you have to peek around it to see what’s happening on the screen. I suspect it works better with smaller objects (I want to try one of those Topps cards next), or with mobile devices.

4. Only Eminem’s AR animation was interactive beyond simple rotation — you have to spray graffiti over it with your mouse. Not very easy either.

5. The biggest question I had was why. For all the trouble they make you go through (download, print, and in case of Star Treck, install a plug-in), you’d expect a somehow more rewarding payoff. From the "useful, usable, desirable" list, most implementations check off only "desirable" for, like, the first two minutes.

7. The Ray-Ban’s Virtual Mirror (img1, img2) was the best of the bunch. It does require installing a separate app on your machine (tech by Fitting Box), but you have a pretty clear reason, and while the app is not without its share of glitches, it’s pretty entertaining, potentially useful and point at the true potential of the technology.

8. It probably makes sense to make AR experience more exclusive and tie it to purchase. According to WSJ, Papa John’s will be putting an AR trigger on its pizza boxes to let users drive the company founder’s Camaro. Again, baseball cards with players coming to life in AR make sense. I wish Eminem had included an AR trigger into the CD box (or maybe he did, I don’t know).

It’s pretty obvious that we are going to see more of this stuff, and we’ll soon move beyond the disposable eye-candy toward something with a longer shelf life. I am hoping for a Rolling Stone AR cover with a band jamming in 3D.

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