I find it interesting to look at the development of past mass media in order to gain a historic perspective on augmented reality. Following is the first post in a series of three doing such a comparison. Since it's far from my typical posts, I'll decide whether to post the other two depending on how well this one is received. Please comment and let me know what you think!
Content, not Technology is the best way forward
Augmented reality is in its "Lumière stage". At the turn of the twentieth century, a new technological spectacle was enchanting people from all around the western world. The moving pictures, or films were all the rage in Europe and the US, showing short scenes from everyday life. Early movie goers got excited seeing a 50 seconds long film portraying a train arriving at a station.
The animated photographs are small marvels. ...All is incredibly real. What a power of illusion! ...The streetcars, the carriages are moving towards the audience. A carriage was galloping in our direction. One of my neighbors was so much captivated that she sprung to her feet... and waited until the car disappeared before she sat down again. (source)
The similarities to augmented reality are obvious, and I don't think that it's just a coincidence that Total Immersion (which is French, like the Lumière brothers), chose to show an augmented train on their site's front page. When people are first exposed to augmented reality, most are impressed, as evident from the numerous videos on Youtube showing folks trying GE's AR application.
But novelty wears off, and in the case of the film industry it wasn't a new technology that rekindle the fire, it was content. Talking films only became popular in the late 1920's, and films in color came 10 years later. Yet, some early film makers have successfully created black and white, silent masterpieces. As a matter of fact, when Chaplin started to work on Modern Times, which some consider to be his greatest creation, he imagined it as a talkie, but soon decided to make it silent (with some sound effects), because he found it better suits the story's atmosphere.
Now, I know there are some major differences between the realm of cinema and the realm of augmented reality, and the world itself changed in a significant way in the last 100 years. Yet, there are some striking similarities, and though no one will run away from an augmented train these days, many are still excited about the novelty of this new medium. And maybe, just maybe, when the time comes and people will get bored sticking markers in front of their web cameras (and this time will come soon enough), an artist, not an engineer, a modern Charlie Chaplin, will rise and create exciting content for us to explore.