Metaio  just transformed its Junaio Augmented Reality  browser into a highly useful tool. Its new Scan function recognizes a range of real things--from pictures to QR codes to product barcodes--so it can supply extra info to its users about what it's looking at. This suggests a near future wherein everything from product demos to store offers could be delivered using AR.
Junaio's 3.0 release is a big transformation for the software--it included limited object recognition powers for about a year, but the new system is far more sophisticated. As well as relying on the usual AR sensor suite of GPS (to tell the software where the smartphone is on the planet), compass, and gyros to work out what angle the phone's camera is looking, it also uses feature tracking to give it a better idea of the objects in its field of view. As long as one of Junaio's channels or databases or the platforms of its developer partners has information on the object, it'll pop up on screen.
When it recognizes a barcode, for example, the software "combines and displays data sources from various partner platforms to provide useful consumer information on a given product," which can be a "website, a shopping micro-site or other related information" such as finding recipes based on the ingredients. It's sophisticated enough so you can scan numerous barcoded items from your fridge and add in extras like "onions" and then get it to find a recipe that uses them. A future where you lazily wave your iPhone into your fridge, and have it report back to you that you could make shephard's pie out of its contents would suit many a cyber-bachelor--and others.
The real trick here is that the move decouples Junaio from an exclusively location-based AR system. Peter Meier, Metaio's CTO and cofounder, spoke with Fast Company to explain. For Meier, "AR has always been about adding meaningful, helpful digital content to the real world. Introducing this new scan feature to Junaio is a big step in terms of easily accessing content in your everyday life." It's a transformation from toy into tool because, "If the only action required to get information is pointing the camera of your smartphone at it, that's a pretty cool world, isn't it?"
When quizzed about how the new systems will find uses, and how they'll turn into revenue-generators, Meier noted, "To be honest, the possibilities are almost endless--team these new services up with some unique thinkers out there and we could have all sort of great projects," which could include anything from "AR City Guides; real world MMORPG's; personalized and localized advertising and GPS navigational experiences." Considering the massive financial success firms like Blizzard have had with their online MMORPG's, it's easy to imagine people playing a semi real-life version of World of Warcraft on the streets. And we can imagine PR firms grabbing onto the idea of real-world marketing too.
But both of these use cases involve longer periods of using AR apps than perhaps users currently manage--because there's only so long you can hold your smartphone out in front of you while trotting around a new city (in case of sore arms or the risk of a mugging). Meier agrees that we need two advances before AR becomes ubiquitous: "Technology on the one hand and social acceptance by the user on the other," and when you get these two together, "creativity and business opportunities will drive the speed of useful content." In terms of tech, Meier thinks the physical issues will disappear: "In the future (quite possibly, near future), AR will be built in to many devices and displays, even digital signage in public locations" and that people will thus use it more, naturally, and the tech will evolve to be more user-friendly--including future tablets, mobile devices and laptops. The software will soon, he thinks, and "be so intuitive that the users aren't even aware they're using AR." And that's what this latest implementation is all about. "Our entire reason of existence is working to make interaction with the digital more natural--a more natural way to browse, a more natural way to receive information about surrounding objects and places--maybe that means contact lenses or headwear. Either way, we're in this for the long run."
The company has a three-year road map for advancing the use of AR, and sees more use of the interface as a natural part of the future of smartphone and tablet user experiences (recent  patent applications  for gaming and mapping apps from industry-leading Apple  suggests that big names in the hardware game agree with Meier). Metaio imagines its code being used by marketers, artists, movie makers and educators. If he's right, the tech really could approach sci-fi levels of power. Or, as Meier puts it: "We browse the Internet all the time--why should reality be any less browsable?"
[Image: Flickr user turkletom ]