Taking apps to the next level

John C. Tanner
17 Nov 2011

Augmented reality
Today: cool but glorified QR codes. Tomorrow: gesture recognition UIs

Augmented reality - apps that use a mobile device's sensors, GPS chip and camera to overlay interactive computer graphics over the real world - is easily the sexiest apps category. AR is still in its infancy - ABI estimates that users downloaded six million AR apps last year, just a fraction of the nearly eight billion downloads in 2010. But ABI is projecting close to a billion AR downloads and $3 billion in global revenues in 2016. 

AR is already being used for a wide variety of apps, from games and navigation to advertising and marketing. There are even security-related AR apps under development - a recent Juniper report says that counter-terrorism may become the highest profile area of AR deployment, citing a trial with Logica and the UK government to incorporate location tech and video recognition tech into AR apps for security service handheld devices. 

Meanwhile, AR technology is already evolving beyond its current status as a gaming novelty or a snazzier version of QR codes. 

UK based software company Autonomy has developed its own gesture-recognition feature for its Aurasma AR app for iPad 2, iPhone 4 and Android smartphones. 

Rather than tapping the device screen to interact with AR graphics, users can reach in front of the device and interact with the graphics in AR-space similar to using a Kinect console. For example, an AR soccer game can cast you as the goalie, allowing you to wave a hand in front of the device to block soccer balls being kicked at you. 

While gesture recognition may sound gimmicky when used on a smartphone, it's also been touted as a crucial step in moving AR apps from smartphones - which is still a bit clumsy, as smartphone AR requires users to hold the device in front of them all the time - to glasses enabled with wireless connectivity.

Qualcomm - which released its AR SDK earlier this year - is also developing a gesture-based user interface for devices that enables apps to be operated by waving a hand over the display. Qualcomm chief Paul Jacobs demonstrated the technology for the first time at the company's annual developer event in Istanbul, telling Telecom Asia it should be ready to roll in the second half of 2012 or early 2013.

Next: The tablet effect