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Augmented Reality - Do You Want Glasses or not?

AR Experte Matthias Hamann

Matthias Hamann

Dieser Artikel ist auch auf deutsch verfügbar

Are AR-Glasses superior to smarthphone usage? Where are they employed and some additional examples

AR or augmented reality has become huge lately. It's incredible how many apps, ideas, and solutions are flooding the market. Little by little, the whole world is slowly becoming aware of AR. Techies and big companies are hit first, but it's slowly but surely spreading into private homes as well.

Now, you might immediately ask yourself, "Do I need one of those glasses now?" While it's an attractive way to use AR, it immediately seems expensive and cumbersome - is it really necessary?

Advantages of AR Glasses Compared to Smartphone Application

Augmented Reality is used in many areas. For example, in employee training and onboarding, teamwork, marketing, and navigation. While this is great for those who want to benefit from it, it also makes it hard for technology to keep up. Because of this broad spectrum of applicability, no AR glasses or AR smartphone solution can be universally applicable to all areas. Thus, AR apps are beneficial in certain areas and so-called AR-Glasses are more useful in others.

Especially when it comes to mobility, portability and immersion, AR-Glasses win by a long shot. Sure, our smartphones are "mobile" - but when you need both hands to work, the smartphone gets in the way. Also, things like gesture control are impractical with a phone in your hand. And if you want to properly integrate AR effects into your life so that they become an active part of it, smartphones will only get you that far. The small screen and the camera can never cover our entire field of vision - the effects will never be one hundred percent believable. In such situations, it makes sense to wear two screens on your head in the form of AR glasses that can rotate and tilt with you and cover a wide field of vision. Only like this, augmented reality can become a truly seamless part of everyday life.

How AR Glasses Work

Of course, manufacturers are trying to stand out by developing new technologies. However, we can generally distinguish between two types of displays and thus two types of AR glasses. On the one hand, there is "waveguide technology". Here, the display is integrated in the glass of the lens. The other side is occupied by what's called "Bird bath optics". These work a bit like periscopes. A screen sits above each lens, and the image is reflected downward onto the glass. The lens is specially coated so that light can enter from the outside, but light is reflected from the inside, forming a so-called "one-way mirror.

For augmented reality to work reasonably, information must also be gathered from the real world. Often however, the glasses for creating computer-generated 3D mappings do not use high-resolution color cameras. Rather, small and relatively simple black-and-white cameras are used. This saves the processor time, which can then be used for more display-relevant calculations. Time is an important factor, especially for AR glasses, since the display must run in real time.

In addition to the camera data, such glasses also use so-called IMUs, which are internal measuring units that provide the glasses with data on acceleration, rotation and so on. The glasses use this in addition to the images from the cameras to get an "idea" of the room in three dimensions.

The data sets then have to be combined and the corresponding calculations have to be run which requires a processor. This can be housed in the frame of the glasses, like in Microsofts HoloLens or in an external (wired) control unit. As with the Nreal Light Developer version, this controller can also be used to control the AR, e.g. when scrolling through menus. Many other manufacturers offer gesture control instead.

How Does the Market Look?

The market for AR data glasses is far from empty, especially if you look at the development of the last few years. However, saying it's full would be an exaggeration. There are some solutions for different target groups and applications, but because AR technology is still in it's early stages, there is still a lot of room for development and still some room for one or two innovative startups. And although this is the case in all other areas of technology, startup founders do not (yet) have to be particularly afraid of Google. There was an attempt to enter the market with Google Glass, but the project failed. Still, Google will certainly come back to AR in the future.

AR glasses in comparison

First of all, this is not supposed be advice on what pair of AR Glasses to buy. It's about getting a feel for the existing range of products, so, the three selected glasses are representative of the entire spectrum.

Useful criteria to compare the glasses by could be the target group, for example. The glasses then move on a spectrum between "Industry" and "Home-Application".

The Microsoft HoloLens would find itself relatively far towards Industry, as it's a rather large, heavy device that looks a bit like ski goggles on steroids. It is primarily designed to be used for maintenance or employee training. As such, emphasis has been placed on a particularly wide field of view, gesture control for full freedom of movement, and safety. However, the HoloLens is also the most expensive on this list.

A step further in the direction of a consumer product, especially in terms of price, is the MagicLeap 1. Although it was originally planned for private use, it is now more tailored to industrial applications. Nevertheless, you control everything with an external controller, which means you do not have both hands free and the field of view is also somewhat more limited than with the HoloLens.

Fully on the consumer side of the spectrum is the Nreal Light, which has only been available to consumers for a few days. This was really about the private person, no great wide field of view, no special safety factors. But you don't need that either if you just want to do some AR-cooking at home. The Nreal Light utilizes the user's smartphone as the processor, saving not only an extra unit, but also space. After all, the glasses are really small, especially compared to the other models on the market. And also in terms of price, the Nreal Light is the friendliest to the private customer.

Examples of AR App Solutions

AR Apps are still not useless though, quite the opposite acctually. For simpler tasks designed for individuals, they can save quite a bit of resources. Besides, we already know problematic issues with AR glasses from their virtual reality cousins. For example, with VR goggles, such as the Oculus Rift, there are often long cables in the way that can limit theoretical mobility. This can't happen with a smartphone, unless you have to charge the battery.

Augmented reality apps for smartphones could be useful in the following areas, for example:

Live Product Customization

For example, when selecting and customizing of products. There are augmented reality solutions in app form that allow customers to place a 3D model of the product in the room and then configure colors and features live on the 3D model. AR glasses wouldn't necessarily be bad for this, but everyone already has a smartphone in their pocket. So these solutions can be used at home and possibly also in the store without having to change the device.

Live Interactive Filters

Perhaps the most popular example when it comes to AR in apps are the filters that have been flooding the internet for the past few years. Every major social media platform now has a "Stories" feature with AR filters. And there's a good reason for the success of these filters. Such filters are fun for users. That makes the marketing potential for companies huge. Snapchat, for example, allows advertisers (and - by the way - private individuals) to run targeted, effective ads. Because the filters are fun, users share and spread the ads on their own - ultimately, users do a lot of the advertising here.

There are tons of other appflications for AR like these. For more inspiration on augmented reality, we've put together a collection of possible solutions with examples and explanations in our AR-Technology Guide.

Now, AR With Glasses or Without?

Good question! To make it short: no idea. It depends on what you want to do with AR. If you want the AR experience to be realistic and immersive, or if you need both hands to work, then you should go for the glasses. What you have to keep in mind is that such glasses still cost quite a bit of money at the moment. But if you want to keep things simple, fast and easily accessible, then apps are the better solution. Potential customers will then already have all the necessary technology at hand. So, no further complex electronics required! But we'll have to wait a little longer before everyone has AR glasses.

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Matthias Hamann
Digital strategy and concept

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I write about my passion for technology and digital strategies. Would you like to find out more about how I work and my projects?

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