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Wizards Unite in Augmented Reality

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: This Way To Hogwarts

Remember all the coverage in summer 2016 around Pokémon Go?  It was a big success for Niantic Labs. It was a great pairing of game design, location-based augmented reality mobile experience with some intellectual property that had a solid fan base. But not much happened in the popular space with AR since then.

I am not going out on a limb to predict that the big AR title for 2018 will probably be Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, an AR title being co-developed by Niantic and Warner Bros. Interactive's Portkey Games.

Harry Potter has a bigger fan base than the original Pokémon and author J.K. Rowling has kept a close watch on the quality of things based on her Wizarding World. Using mobile phones and AR for a scavenger hunt in our real Muggle world and using that phone to cast spells, and find objects, fantastic beasts and characters from the book series is very likely to give Niantic another hit.  

Some people touted Pokémon Go for getting kids outside as they wandered neighborhoods, parks and other places. Some people complained that these kids were tramping around their property. 

This gaming use of AR with kids (and some older kids) is certainly wonderful preparation for more serious marketing use of AR for shopping experiences, as well as for virtual tours in museums and other more serious applications.

Niantic raised $30 million in funding for Pokémon Go. This time they have $200 million in a funding round, from investors for Wizards Unite.  That kind of money will mean work as well as a few Aberto and Alohomora  spells at opening the AR money door.

Virtual Reality Education and Flying Cars

holodeck

The Holodeck

People love to use the prediction that we would all be using flying cars by the 21st century as an example of a future technology that never happened. Remember how virtual reality and the augmented reality was going to change everything? So far, it's not.

Last summer, Pokemon Go was huge and even though many people would dismiss it as a silly game, it was AR and seemed like it might change gaming and who knows what else. The promise, or perhaps more accurately the potential, of VR in education is also a popular topic. 

We know that the Internet enabled students to access materials from other institutions and to travel to distant places for their research. Virtual reality may one day change the ways in which we teach and learn. That has me thinking about "virtual reality education" - something I imagine to be unbound by physical spaces like classrooms or campuses and time.That sounds like online learning, but it would be beyond the online learning.

Remember the "holodeck?" Originally, it was a set from the television series Star Trek where the crew could engage with different virtual reality environments. It came back into my view with Janet Murray's book Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. She considered whether the computer might provide the basis for an expressive narrative form in the way that print technology supported the development of the novel. In the 20th century, film technology supported the development of movies. 

And remember virtual worlds like Second Life and Active Worlds? I knew a number of educators and schools that made a real commitment to its use in education. I don't know of any of them that are still using virtual worlds.

I'm hopeful that VR, AR, or some version of a holodeck or virtual world will some day enhance education, but so far, I'm still operating in Reality Reality.

Fantastic Augmented Reality and Where to Find It

pokemon

Pokémon Go was big last summer, but it was a flash in the tech pan. It couldn't scale. But it was a big augmented reality (AR) game that was mobile and required no additional hardware - especially the odd-looking goggles we currently associate with virtual reality. The game was platform agnostic. It used location services to geo-locate players with a virtual world. It worked.

I never played Pokémon Go, but I did observe others playing. For those of you who also didn't participate, here's what it is all about.

Your avatar is displayed on a map using the player's current geographical location. There are PokéStops that provide players with items, such as eggs, Poké Balls, berries, potions and lure modules which attract additional wild, and sometimes rare, Pokémon. These stops and battle locations (gyms) are re-purposed portals from Ingress, developer Niantic's previous augmented reality game. 

In AR mode the game uses the camera and gyroscope on the player's mobile device to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world.

beasts

I can certainly see more game applications for AR. I would pursue the rights to the Harry Potter world's latest franchise whose name itself suggests an AR game: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  

But is this all we can expect from augmented reality? 

Its use in education has been limited, but it has been used to superimpose text, graphics, video and audio into a student’s real time environment. As a kind of supercharged QR code, in textbooks and in real spaces, such as museums and physical displays, material can be embedded using “markers” that trigger when scanned by an AR device and supply supplementary multimedia materials.

NASA

Using AR for more serious purposes is not that new. In 2000, NASA's X38 display (shown here) had a video map with overlays including runways and obstacles for use during flight tests. 

The applications for AR are numerous. For architects and builders, AR can aid in visualizing building projects. Computer-generated images of a structure can be superimposed into a real life local view of a property before the physical building is constructed there. It can be used before any construction begins while architects are rendering into their view animated 3D visualizations of their 2D drawings. 

Similarly, AR allows industrial designers to experience a product's design and operation before completion. Volkswagen used AR for comparing calculated and actual crash test imagery and to visualize and modify car body structure and engine layout. AR was also be used to compare digital mock-ups with physical mock-ups for finding discrepancies between them.

3D

We are not there yet, but in education AR should become more common and more interactive. Computer-generated simulations of existing places and historical events. In higher education, applications such as Construct3D, are used to help learn mechanical engineering concepts, math or geometry. 

Primary school children using interactive AR experiences will probably end up in high schools and colleges using AR and VR in ways we can't quite imagine today. AR technology in the classroom will be integrated, rather than a novelty, and mixing real life and virtual elements will feel more natural. 


The Apple User Experience

user design



September is not only the start of a new academic year, but also the time for Apple announcements. Apple has an odd connection to its users. They are devoted, often called "fan boys," who used to line up at stores for new products. I doubt the lines will be very long for their newest announcements. But they have famously been known - especially in the Jobs days - to not listen to users but to tell user what they want and need.

The new iPhones, called the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, aren't very new. The most attention has gone to the new iPhones lacking a headphone jack. This helps make them more water-resistant, but it will require Bluetooth earbuds or phones. That is a significant additional cost and it will sap more power from that precious battery. Some of us also plug other external devices using that plug (I do that in my car.) This is the kind of deletion that recalls the removal of floppy disk drives, additional USB ports and CD/DVD drives which force users to move on and trash older media and devices. Is that good user design and a good user experience?

A colleague said to me that Apple's approach is like many teachers: tell the users what they need, rather than base your design on what they want. If you believe that Apple (or teachers) know better what their users need, then it is good design. But anyone who studies or works in user design would say that in both cases not spending more time in assessing what your users want is a flaw.

As an iPhone user, I was not looking for a revised home button with force sensitivity which will vibrate to give feedback - and I'm not sure that I need it. The iPhones are more water-resistant, but we all know that "resistant" is not "waterproof." Don't drop it in the toilet and expect no problems.

The Plus model of the new iPhone includes a dual-lens camera to take more professional-grade photos. But Android phones have had much better cameras without two lenses for a few years.

I don't see the Apple Watch as a hit, but the Apple Watch Series 2 will appear. It has GPS and Pokémon Go is available for it. Does that make you want to run out and buy one?

After the death of Steve Jobs, the cry went up that Apple would stop innovating and some of those who said that feel that they were correct in their prediction. Whatever happened to that Apple TV that Jobs was saying was on its way? The biggest change in smartphones the past few years is that users are using them less and less as phones and more and more as a computer. Your "phone company" contract is really a data contract.

I'm not sure that much more can be done with smartphones as hardware. the more important changes may be in the operating systems, battery life, more AI and new business models for data.