During this difficult economic time, augmented reality has the potential to help you enhance your role as a visionary business technology leader, inspire your team, and steal the march on your competitors.
OK, a little word-association game here: Below I'm going to describe a brilliant new technology that I think will launch some powerful applications, but first I'm going to share with you the name of this new techno-breakthrough. As soon as you read it, shout out what you think it means. Here it is:
C'mon, don't just make a funny face and grumble about what a dumb term it is -- what does it make you think of? Maybe controlled substances? Transcendental meditation? Or maybe the explanation you got from your teenage son about why he missed his midnight curfew Friday night?
On the other hand, try this example that leaves out the name and instead focuses on its capabilities: This week at the Wimbledon tennis tournament,IBM is showcasing a mobile applicationthat lets people point their mobile-phone cameras at various real things around the sprawling Wimbledon complex -- such as Court 2, or maybe a strawberries-and-cream stand -- and the mobile device will overlay additional multimedia information about that real object.
I think this new technology will gain rapid and widespread acceptance across multiple industries and trigger huge implications in how shoppers evaluate products, how children learn, how workers absorb training, and how marketers can enrich the experiences their products offer.
CIOs of the world, take note -- you need to have some of your smartest people get their hands on this and play around with it and come up with 25 brainstormed ideas for how it can help your company excite and delight your customers and prospects.
Some observers -- including a few of those I've linked to below for more background on this topic -- say that this powerful new technology with the goofy laboratory name will find only limited uptake for a few years, primarily among gamers and other geeky enthusiasts. I think that's nonsense -- sort of like saying Twitter will be limited only to those people who don't like writing messages of more than 140 characters.
No, the power behind this augmented-reality technology is that it will allow people in all walks of life to do more of what we have shown an almost-limitless capacity for wanting to do: understand and engage more deeply with those parts of the world that interest and appeal to us.
For example: You want to buy a house in a neighborhood you're not familiar with, but you don't want to go through the formal thing yet of talking to a real estate agent. So you drive through the area, see a house for sale, point your mobile-phone camera at it, and the yet-unbuilt app -- perhaps it'll come from some innovative real estate player such as Zillow -- gives you an immediate history about surveys, taxes, school districts, renovations, ownership history, utility bills, traffic volume on this and other local streets, zoning regulations, and much more.
As they say, imagine the possibilities. But hey, who dreamed up that dog of a term, "augmented reality"? Makes me think of the old joke about a certain world-renowned IT company from back when it created great products but disdained marketing: If HP had invented sushi, they would have called it cold, dead fish.
I think the sheer obtuseness of that term affected even IBM's thinking about the very cool mobile application it's rolling out this week at Wimbledon, because here's the name IBM came up with: the Seer Android Beta. Yes indeed, the Seer Android Beta.
Well, at least it didn't go with the runner-up name, which reportedly was "the Mobile-Device Information-Overlay Application." But, I nitpick -- the power and potential of this new technology will overwhelm some uninspiring early-stage names, and just imagine the thousands of creative applications that will arise when this technology is placed in the hands of teenagers and young professionals whose mobile devices are indispensable extensions of themselves and the ways in which they experience and engage with the world around them.
And it's precisely that huge potential across entertainment, marketing, education, product evaluation, merchandising, training, and much more that make it so important for strategic CIOs to seize the initiative in getting to know seemingly wacky new stuff like "augmented reality" and exploring how their companies can exploit its novelty and its capabilities.
Indeed, I think augmented reality can serve as a perfect example of the new ways in which CIOs must continue to get out in front of technology trends and innovations, looking way beyond IT infrastructure and toward new gizmos and applications and technologies that offer unprecedented ways for your companies to interact with customers, engage with them, appeal to them, showcase your value propositions to them, and encourage them to work with you to exploit those new tools to their fullest.
- Lego: "Simply hold up the Lego box to an in-store kiosk with a web cam and watch a rendering of the toy assemble itself."
- Topps sports trading cards: "At Toppstown fans get the full 3-D experience, can make the tiny players bat and pitch, plus explore stats and game info."
- Toyota: "Toyota employed the technology to show off its new small car,Toyota IQ, which allows consumers to interact with the car and discover its agility and interior space."
- "Enkin wants to 'reinvent navigation,' by combining GPS, orientation sensors, 3-D graphics, live video, and several web services into something wholly new."
And then there's the IBM mobile app for Wimbledon mentioned above. Here's how a subsequent Ad Age article described what the Seer Android Beta can do: "For example, pointing the phone's camera lens towards a court will bring up information and scores about the match being played on that court, as well as information about forthcoming matches. Point the phone at a cafe and a menu and an update on the length of the queue for strawberries and cream appears."
You'll also find some interestingbackground and perspectives on augmented reality at a site called MobiThinking.com. We all know that right now you're battling with budgets, doing more with less, fighting to keep your team together, and trying to enhance the strategic business value you and your team offer to your organization and your customers. In such a context, you might think that you don't have time to diddle around with some unproven and still-kinda-squishy technology that has a goofy name.
But I would say that augmented reality and its potential provide precisely the right type of opportunity for you to reassert or enhance your role as a visionary business technology leader, for you to inspire your team and rekindle within it a sense of excitement and exploration and fun, and for you to steal the march on your competitors by helping rewrite the rules of how your industry plays the game.
Forget the name. Focus on the potential. And go out and augment your company's competitive reality.