Project Tango Augmented Reality

In Understanding The Future of Marketing I explained the dichotomy of technology into Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR):  “Augmented reality uses digital technology to make the real world feel digital, while virtual reality uses digital technology to make the digital world feel real.”

Google, with its advantage in semantic technologies seemed set to dominate AR while Facebook with its purchase of Oculus Rift and its massive, global user base, seemed set to dominate VR. The arrangement seemingly provided an easy way to coexist for two global digital brands whose relationship has always been “complicated”.

Well, all bets are off and the reason lies in Project Tango Google’s experimental, Project X initiative that uses tablets and phones to breach the barrier between the real world and the digital one. Project Tango uses an array of sensors and cameras embedded in mobile devices to totally transform the way we use digital technology to interact with the real world and the way digital technology itself uses the real world, eroding not just the difference between real world and digital but also the distinctions between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

Project Tango takes data and uses it in ways that we find useful. Sometimes that may be in an AR way like getting precise dimensions of a room using our phones or tablets as tape measures. At other times it will be in a VR way like when we use our phones or tablets as control devices to manipulate a digital representation of the real world, or when we use them as a handy attachment to perform a specific task in the digital world.

Form is as Important as Function

The apparent failure of the first version of Google Glass drove home the point that unless social rejection can be overcome the adoption of any kind of technology is stymied by hurdles that have nothing to do with its usefulness and a whole lot to do with what we consider socially acceptable.

Smartphones overcame the social rejection stage some time ago and their functionality is fast reaching the stage where they transform from personal communication devices to personal utility platforms without which our efficiency drops significantly. Google has been smart enough to connect Project Tango with Intel’s RealSense 3D Camera and partner up, for now, with Lenovo.

That means that the day when the smartphone in your pocket will also allow you to 3D model any real environment and manipulate it are not that far behind. But what does this really mean on a practical day-to-day level?

Well, the accumulating real-world data will mean that Google search, for one, will be that much better. Currently as Google’s semantic search transitions from “strings to things” and creates entities in its index, it has to rely on massive amounts of data to form, cross-reference, check, verify and eventually index trusted entities. A phone that accesses the real-world directly and models it removes a layer of filtering between it and the data it needs.

Suddenly shapes and objects in pictures can be understood better, faster, leading to improvements in visual search. The increased correlation of data between indexed models and the real world will also lead to an improved understanding of content on the web and its relation to real-world events, so that an article on a rock concert for instance will have for search exactly the same meaning it has for a person, i.e. a musical event related to a band, a particular type of music, a time, a tradition and a place.

This richness of detail will make it more possible than ever to use search for search queries that are vague and unrelated to immediate context such as “place near the sea that rock concert took place in the 90s”.

While all this is going on Google is also working on V2 of Google Glass rumored to be released for enterprise. Should that happen there will be a source of highly specialized, anonymized data that will further enhance all of Google’s services.

So What?

Wonderful as all this may be from a technological point of view the question that really matters is: why does it matter? Well, technology has become the interface through which our thoughts, ideas and intentions are realized. As such the devices we carry with us and the digital realms we enter through our screens have the effect of making our internal world porous. New ideas, thoughts and paradigms seep into it all the time just as new ideas, thoughts and paradigms emerge (and are shared), from it.

Similarly the approximate nature of ‘digital’ which was used to simulate the real world now becomes an additional, detailed, useful layer of data that can sometimes be superimposed upon it (AR) and at other times substitute for it (VR). 

This also changes the way information is used at consumer level. It also affects the way marketing works.

The new marketing now requires: 

  • Information that is multi-layered and creates true data density about its subject.
  • A consistent approach to data presentation in terms of theme, tone and nature.
  • A deep set of values that inform everything a business does, which emerges in the parsing of the totality of its online and offline activities.
  • Real introspection that helps identify the character and soul of a business (i.e. its. Unique Selling Proposition and reason why it was created).
  • A detailed, measured, long-term approach to truly fleshing out what a business does.
  • Practices, beliefs and ideas that generate trust and enable the building of real relationships between a business and its target audience.

There are some real caveats to all this:

It all takes time. All of the above activities have real value because they require real commitment. The days when you could ‘buy’ time through manpower and use deep pockets as a shortcut to marketing success are now behind us.

There is no getting past the need for relationship-building. This is not a call for brands to behave like they are our friends. On the contrary, in dealing with online businesses we want to see more professionalism than ever before. At the same time we need to see their humanity. The people behind them and the passion that drives them. At the very least we need to get the sense that when designing their website their primary aim and objectives were to help us complete a transaction or find a piece of information in the easiest way possible.

All of these are activities that also require thought, planning and execution. They too need commitment, which is why we value them. The days when having an online business required just a website are over. In the 21st century attention economy businesses that treat customers like they do not matter, cease to matter themselves.  

Additional Reading

Google’s Project Tango Will Power Augmented Reality
Google is the Remembrance Agent
Google Glass 2.0 – First Pictures Emerge
Facebook's Oculus Rift VR headset will launch without its super-cool hand controller