What it is: Augmented reality combines the real world overlaid with additional, virtual information.
Facebook, google, Microsoft, and practically everyone else is pursuing virtual reality with headsets that strap to your face. Imagine if the only way you could use a mobile phone would be strapping it to your face. How many people would want to use a mobile phone if you had to strap it to your face?
Everyone knows the benefits of mobile phones, but if you had to strap it to your face to use it, far fewer people would use them. That’s because strapping anything to your face to use it kills the portability benefits. That’s the same problem with virtual reality.
That’s why Apple has been quietly pursuing augmented reality. Unlike virtual reality that immerses the user in another world or, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, augments reality by forcing you to wear a special device to your face, Apple’s augmented reality dream focuses more about mobile devices like the iPhone. Apple’s latest patent comes from their acquisition of Flyby Media, another augmented reality company.
Flyby Media was working on using a mobile phone’s gyroscope and accelerometer along with its camera to precisely measure the distance of a phone from nearby objects. So if you held your iPhone in a museum, Flyby Media’s technology could identify the location of your iPhone within a few centimeters. Essentially, Flyby Media’s technology allows an iPhone to sense nearby objects and determine how close those objects are to the iPhone.
For disabled people, this could allow the iPhone to help them navigate through any public place. For sighted people, Flyby Media’s technology can be used for advertising. If you stand within a meter of an object and point your camera at it, you can view both the real object and a video related to that object such as an ad or explanation. Flyby Media’s technology essentially lets an iPhone detect its surroundings and take action.
Think of how useful Google Maps and Apple Maps have become when driving. Now imagine indoor mapping in public places like stadiums or airports. It’s so convenient to follow Google Maps directions to drive to a destination you’ve never been to before. Imagine doing the same thing with Flyby Media’s technology to do indoor mapping.
Lost in an airport? Use Flyby Media’s technology to give you walking directions to your terminal. Exploring a museum? Let your iPhone give you step by step directions for viewing the exhibits you’re most interested in viewing. Flyby Media’s technology essentially brings indoor mapping to the iPhone.
The next breakthrough of the iPhone won’t necessarily be hardware improvements, but software features like augmented reality. With Apple patenting so many augmented reality inventions and acquiring so many augmented reality companies, it’s obvious that augmented reality will play a huge role in the next iPhone, or the next one after that.
The big improvement of the iPhone will be augmented reality, and that will make all those companies dabbling in virtual reality to rethink their strategy. Virtual reality headsets have their place in niche markets, but augmented reality, married to smartphones, is going to be the future that everyone thought virtual reality would dominate.