Apple unveiled an augmented reality developers kit at its recent developer’s conference – maybe this will be the next big Apple product to change the world, maybe even more profoundly than the iPhone did. It is just that this time, Apple is reliant on the imagination of others.
There are some who say augmented reality is a bubble, which brings us to the subject of one the great investment bubbles – The South Seas Bubble of the 18th century. Back then, one company sought to raise money for a project: “For carrying-on an undertaking of great advantage but no-one to know what it is!!”. By all accounts, augmented reality will be an undertaking of great advantage – earlier this year, Apple boss Steve Cook said: “I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone.” It is just that no one seems to know what this great advantage is.
Mark Zuckerberg envisages viewing our breakfast through our smart phone and seeing sharks swimming in out of our cornflakes. Maybe the person who can develop such as app will be able to lay claim to being the world’s first true cereal entrepreneur of the digital age. Mr Zuckerberg also envisages being able to leave messages for people at certain locations, but in virtual space.
Magic Leap seems to envision killer whales jumping out of sports halls.
The makers of this video seem to envision augmented reality turning everyday existence into a kind of video game.
The Scarlett Johansson movie Ghost in the Shell, has a view of augmented reality showing ads superimposed onto buildings.
Another possibility is for it to promote long distance communication – communication via holograms. You can have dinner with your partner, hologram sitting next to hologram, in any restaurant in the world represented in virtual space, even if you and your partner are thousands of miles apart.
But we don’t know.
And what augmented reality does do depends on the imagination of developers, Great British Entrepreneurs among them, Now Apple has launched an augmented reality developers kit: ARKit, at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference.
But we don’t know what the Apple augmented reality device will be like. Rumour has it that the company is developing glasses using a Micro LED screen.
It’s a big difference with the iPhone and iPad, of course. With these products, there were already apps. Wi Fi made the iPhone possible, but the websites, it provided access to, already existed. The app market came later.
Apple says “By blending digital objects and information with the environment around you, augmented reality takes apps beyond the screen, freeing them to interact with the real world in entirely new ways. “
But what does that mean?
Some talk about it adding a fourth dimension to the world. Even Plato understood the dilemma. In his famous allegory of the cave, he talked about prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their head, all they can see is the cave’s wall. A puppeteer holds up puppets, casting shadows on the wall. This is the prisoner’s reality, shadows of puppets is all they know.
Maybe we are like those very prisoners and already live in some kind of virtual reality, only able to view puppets. One thing is for sure, Plato’s prisoners would have found it hard to imagine any form of reality other than the shadows of puppets.
That is what we are like in this pre-augmented and virtual reality age, trying to imagine a world we have never experienced.
Or maybe, those of us who get excited by augmented reality are like investors in the South Sea bubble. It was a craze that fooled the very cleverest of people – Isaac Newton lost a fortune. Will Augmented Reality create virtual bubbles that we can live our lives in, or is it just a bubble which will burst?