I was answering some questions about a previous post of mine on AR, and realized I have made some unnecessary limitations in my own thinking. And I may not be the only one! So I thought I’d share my thoughts on a broader view of augmented reality.
Now, most people tend to think of Augmented Reality as visual augmentation of a scene. This typically done with a camera that registers what you’re seeing, and then adds information to the visual field. The approach is usually either a projector on glasses (e.g. Google Glass) or by putting it on your screen (Apple’s ARKit). But what occurred to me is that there’re more ways to augment the world with useful information.
One of the limitations of visual systems is their ‘directionality’; you have to be pointed in a particular direction to notice something. Movement in the periphery of your vision may draw your attention elsewhere, but otherwise you’re pretty limited. Yes, we have blindspots.
Audio, on the other hand, is direction-independent. It may be affected by distance, or interference (as is vision too), but is independent of where you’re looking. E.g. we can listen to the radio or podcasts while we drive, and the GPS notifications don’t require that we look at the map (“turn left in 200 feet”).
And this information also can augment our world. It could be a narration of interesting points as you traverse some space, or it could be performance information. Or even notifications! I regularly set alarms before events to do things like get me to the call or room on time, to remember to load presentations on flash drives, and more. This extra information in the world is very helpful. It’s what Don Norman called a ‘forcing function’, making it hard for your to avoid processing it. (His example was putting something you needed to take to work in front of the door so you couldn’t leave without at least moving it.)
Movement information can also be useful. Vibration of a phone on silent, or the different taps that an Apple Watch can give to have you turn left or right are both examples. (For that matter, I always wonder if airlines make it warmer during the flight to help you sleep, particularly at night, and colder before you need to wake up to land.)
There are lots of ways we can instrument the world to provide useful information (train arrival notifications, maps, street signs). Digital support that is contextually cued is even more powerful. But don’t limit yourself (as I was somewhat inclined to do) to just visual cues. Think of a rich suite of human perception and leverage accordingly.