Google is Plugging a Huge Hole in Augmented Reality

After fifty years of feeling like the oddest person in the room, I’ve more or less gotten used to short conversations and strange looks. I start out by having weak social skills and add to that an active imagination that incessantly deposits ideas into my mind that very few people can share. So, it wasn’t all that much a surprise when it happened again, just a disappointment.

Earlier this year I completed a review of Easy AR CMS and while working on the document it struck me how inefficient it was that each vendor I reviewed had their own Augmented Reality Scanner app. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense if there was a standard that allowed for the creation of a generic scanner so that you didn’t have to fish out the scanner tied to the store you were in or the company who’s advertisement you were viewing? I did some digging and quickly found WebVR, ARML and The AR Community, so clearly others shared my thoughts. But it didn’t look like a tremendous amount of resources were being thrown into the effort.

When I asked the Easy AR CMS vendors about their view on a standardised AR scanner I was told, “The market doesn’t need a standard scanner because our customers want to keep total control of their customers’ experience, and this includes the scanner.” Others indicated that the high quality of their scanner was an important market differentiator.

Then, at Wearable Technologies in London, I had the temerity during an Augmented Reality panel discussion to ask what it would take to push the market to drive standards for a scanner. I might as well have asked if they thought the Pope was a Dead Head. The panel was polite, but completely dismissive of the idea. One of the panel even met me after the event and after making sure he understood what I was getting at, stated something to the effect of “We live in an app based world. People are used to downloading apps. Its no big deal.”

A few weeks later, out of the blue, I was invited to visit the Google VR lab in Zürich with a few friends. While there, we were given a demonstration of a VR experience and I noticed that it looked like it was running from a Chrome browser. I asked and was informed that the VR experience was running in a pre-release WebVR enabled Chrome browser and the VR experience actually was only a few lines of code. When I asked if the same thing was in development for AR, I received a friendly smile. Cool! I wasn’t so far off base after all.

Finally, at this year’s Google I/O event it was officially announced that a Chrome based WebAR enabled browser is in the works.

Why is this worth writing about? Because the rate of adoption of Augmented Reality is going to be heavily impacted by ease of use. I will be able to point my device at something and my browser, which is installed on just about every computing device made today, will display my Augmented Reality experience. Nothing to download, nothing to install. This broadens the market because now your development team doesn’t have to have computer vision skills, which is an expensive hurdle to jump if you want to start an Augmented Reality company. It also improves the user experience, because when you have a billion people using the same tool, bugs are more rapidly found and fixed. There will always be people who find reasons to develop their own scanner, but these won’t be for the mass market.

Sure, problems and complexities will have to be worked out, but a critical component of the Augmented Reality technology is now being put in place and the way forward is abundantly clear. I am not into revenge, but I do love vindication!