#ARConf and #Ecomm – Surprisingly Interrelated

May 5, 2010

in Accelerating Innovation, innovation, Mobility, Scenarios & Futures

Finally I’m getting to my eComm posts and notes. On the third day, AR or Augmented Reality came to eComm America2010 in the form of ARConf.  I know many of the telecom crowd didn’t stick around for day three and I feel they missed out big time. Almost 12 hours long, Lee Dryburgh and team pulled together a line up of talks that kept your attention, stretched your perspective and most importantly helped you personally reframe a little of your world view. Few left the room at any time.

I admit I was somewhat skeptical going in. I think AR is like VR was. Overhyped and overstated. Example I can’t get excited by Layar in it’s current rendition although appreciate why it has investor dollars. Yet as with any new technology experience we require the prototypes and users to learn. My purpose with this post is to cover:

1. What the telco geeks that left, missed out on and perhaps a little of what I needed more of in the first two days of eComm
2. What AR challenges are there
3. The next step for AR experiences
4. A future conference thought

1. Telecom, VoIP and AR – What’s the relationship? On one level the answer is seemingly very little. On another at the infrastructure level it’s huge. Yet it took me most of the day to understand this. The thrust in AR is from the desktop to the mobile. The rah rah end of AR today is in companies like Layar – an augmented browsing experience where the information is overlaid over views of the environment. For this to work on the mobile, the cloud has to be very effective. While there was some talk of voice into the cloud embracing the full spectrum of opportunity represented by AR will require important developments in location, sensors, and access. While the AR examples shown were not about voice it stands to reason that voice ultimately is part of this reality.

2. AR Challenges. I heard, over and over, the history on AR and the challenges of the current crop of mobile AR implementations. Biggest problem. AR solutions that look through the camera resulted in a restricted or smaller field of vision. This reduces the impact of the experience, however probably counteracts for the other professed problem… how accurate is the location. Typically off by 27 feet (from memory). By contrast one of the most compelling demos I saw was of a dancer playing virtual instruments she couldn’t see. Albert Hwang the dancer, who calls himself an Information Artist was amazing. Check out his video on Spatial Computing:

I could quickly translate that Smule’s magic piano at some future time would stay in my pocket while enabling a performance. Amber Case, a Cyborg Anthropologist further reinforced this thought with the practical symplicity of GeoNotes and using a belt unit and buzzer for getting you to your destination.

3. The next AR experiences. I don’t believe we will have too many experiences that really change everything through the camera or mobile phone. The gesture of walking along with a camera and looking though the limited lens doesn’t work. I left believing the short term challenge is to enable the AR overlay while your phone continues to reside in your pocket. The obvious example is when walking there’s no need to look at a map and the voice directions don’t have to be delivered in time to make a screeching turn.

Another element of this observation is “speed”. This is one of my new mantra’s when talking mobile and inserting apps into the flow. Unless they run in the background they won’t work at all. Eg Even now waiting for a map to load or a twitter client to switch to a camera to then upload it is all too slow. Waiting for the Yelp app if you can find it (oh search) to identify that restaurant. For those with a 3GS iPhone with a compass I hear Yelp Monocle is quite popular (although I don’t know what that really means). Speed or response to environment remains a key issue.

So there’s a big opportunity for “voice” in the background when or as appropriate. The smart assistant. There’s also the opportunity for considering the “gestures” that the mobile can enable. These could relate to movements, sensors etc. What’s exciting to me is the AR world leads in a direction that makes the mobile ultimately less visible and more practical and personal at the same time. I’ll be writing another post on what AR may mean to iPhone 5.0.

Ecomm America 2010 was a powerful event. #ashcloud impacted on the curation. I really felt for Lee Dryburgh the organizer, curator, and moderator who had to watch his conference from half a world away. I see opportunities for the next eComm to broaden the “mobile” discussion, broaden insights into global markets and balance the edginess of some apps with the needs in the emerging markets.

eComm is ultimately about people and creating a better global communications environment. While it grew out of eTel and VoIP, the future is beyond Asterisk, and numbers. Communications tomorrow is more likely to be effected by Facebook and Twitter, than Skype or GoogleVoice. The handset is morphing into a computer and yet the future couldn’t be any more unevenly distributed.

A quick dive into AR proved to me that the mobile as a “tool” remains the most exciting device on the planet. As a mobile computer it becomes even more compelling. The stretch remains in infrastructure, whether frequency, or sensor networks and standards and regulatory agreements or in simple UI solutions. Mobile continues to teach us a lot about why websites aren’t engaging. Soon it will teach us how to replace money, educate our children and more.

Right now I don’t know of one conference that thinks very very deeply about the future of mobile. It’s fragmented and piecemeal while overall it is an industry with an increasing set of unknowns. My attendance at the first eTel and then later eComms was driven by my desire to see cost and friction driven out of communications. I’ve watched the shift to communications that are always on with presence, that have moved from simple status updates to ongoing contextual messaging and the acceleration and in many cases the usurping of chat by SMS. I’ve also watched mobile move to a gesture and touch based direction while maps and various mashups around them became more pervasive. In ten years (maybe less time) the website as we know it today will be dead. It will be completely dominated and led by the mobile experience.

There’s real challenges on the horizon for setting the agenda for the next eComm. There’s plenty of issues. Example the gap between organizations and where us users are rapidly finding ourselves. The real-time web, notifications, patents on gestures, more on UI design, more statistics on APP stores, better coverage of the emerging world, and more. The conversation is changing. TV is now part of eComm. Books perhaps. Communications and connectivity is trending to how the tool in our pocket is radically reframing the world.

Bonus Link: check out young Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense – “a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information.”. Here’s a talk he gave at TEDIndia:

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