Augmented Realities Killer Use Case

Let me start off by saying I genuinely hate when people use the killer app terminology. I say this because the thing that drives a technology into the mainstream is rarely just one thing as much as people desire to believe it is only one thing. In mobile, for example, the killer app was APPS, not any one app.

I have discussions with company executives, investors, venture capitalists, and more on a regular basis and many of my conversations are about the future. Augmented reality is a subject that comes up in nearly every discussion about where the world personal computing is headed. Naturally, the what is augmented realities killer app always comes up as a question.

The more I’ve thought about this and attempted to connect the dots, the more clear it has become to me that augmented realities killer use case is not going to be that sexy. Pundits and so called futurists often like to point to entertainment, gaming, and other more sexy use cases as the thing that will drive augmented reality. My current conviction is those use cases are not where the mainstream will find true value with AR. Rather, I think the killer use for AR is utility. Good old-fashioned usefulness. Let’s look at a few examples.

I recently came across an app called Memrise. Memrise is a language learning app, and while most of the app has similar experiences to other language learning apps one feature stands out to me. Memrise uses Appel’s CoreML to do image detection of any object and then shows the objects wording in the language you selected. Here are two visuals to help with the illustration.

After spending some time with the app, I was quite surprised how many objects the service recognized and how quickly it knew what the object was and gave me results on how to say it in the language of choice. World travelers will remember similar experiences of apps that translated words in other languages in real-time using the camera on your smartphone. Text translation was quite a bit easier than image recognition to translation, but none-the-less these are real world valuable use cases that any person can immediately understand and find useful.

Another unexpected experience was around Apple’s new measure app. If you are like me and you try to do most stuff around your house on your own, you know you can never have too many tape measures. My wife hates that I almost always buy a tape measure at Home Depot when a good deal on one shows up. Most of my closest friends are in construction and use a tape measure an uncountable number of times every day. I’ve never once worn a tape measure out, and they go through more in a year than I have owned in my lifetime. I showed this app to my brother-in-law, who is a carpenter foreman, and he doubted it’s accuracy. So he went around my yard measuring everything he could, and things that often a tape-measure is tough to use because of length. Even he was impressed with how accurate the app was.Also, while this app is no replacement for a tape measure. There are many times where you need to know roughly the length of something as you plan. See this example, of a current project to build a deck and new fencing in the back part of my house.

I just needed to know a rough idea of the distance from my house to the pasture fence so I could have a rough estimate for my planning of another fence. This would have taken two people and several tape-measurements, but I got it quickly with this app which was extremely close to accurate. I bring this use case up, and the Memrise one to make a broader point. These experiences were quick and useful, and the action itself was not that different from me holding my phone up to take a picture. The challenge I have with gaming use cases, or other more entertainment focused use-cases for AR is they all require you to hold the device for long periods of time for the experience. These more utility-focused AR experiences I’m talking about are much briefer in the interaction model, while simultaneously being extremely useful and solving a pain-point or shining light on a pain-point you didn’t know existed like with the measuring app.

Now, I’ll tell you what I would personally find extremely useful. Some app that I can point the camera and get a rough estimate of somethings weight. Like, for example, this hog.

Because I don’t know if you have ever tried to measure a hog to get its weight but let me tell you it is not enjoyable and borderline dangerous.

While I somewhat jest, I think it a number of these use cases it is important to recognize just how difficult being accurate can be. Also, I do believe that these experiences become more valuable the richer the information becomes. For example, a killer use case just waiting to be solved is an app that you point your camera at your plate of food and get an accurate calorie count. Meaning that it doesn’t just recognize the food on your plate but accurately measures out the portions to give precise calorie count. This seems inevitable and not that far off.

As I said at the start, most of these examples are not sexy, flashy, or the kinds of things that drive headlines. They are, however, things that can solve real consumer pain points in ways that were previously quite difficult or impossible to solve. With both Google and Apple going down this road, it seems that using the camera sensor as a way to get more rich information about the world is the next step in personal computing.

What is this plant? How do I solve this math problem? How much does this weigh? How tall is that tree? How many calories is this meal? what kind of food is this? What does that say? Who is this person? The list goes on but you get the idea. These are all new ways to think about using the image sensor to answer a question. I can see a shift from a question in a consumer mind being answered by pulling up a browser and going to Google to pulling out your camera and pointing it at something. This, to me, feels transformative and sets the stage to make it much easier for a consumer to embrace head-worn augmented reality solutions in the future.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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