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A New Social Reality: How Augmented Reality is Changing Social Media

Social Media seemingly appeared from nowhere, and in one fell swoop transformed the entire digital landscape. Now a world without it is unimaginable. The success of Social Media was built on a natural human desire to communicate, and to do so in new and varied ways. The heart of every interaction is emotion, but it is increasingly shrouded in twinkling lights, hashtags and emojis. This is not necessarily a bad thing, language is ever evolving, and the ability to adapt and create these new discourses is what makes us interesting as a species.

                                                 

The latest of these ‘updates’ is the addition and integration of AR into our daily lives. And, as with every such change, to ignore these developments would be foolish and a detriment to individuals and businesses alike. Adaptation is crucial. Much of the world of AR as we know it stems from films, and no film better depicts this than ‘Her’. Her presents a future we have nourished for years in our fiction, so is it any wonder that AR is leaking into real life?

Flick back to 2004, the start of Facebook, and the start of Social Media as we know it. My Space had only been created a year prior, and Social Media was but a space to share photographs and compare who had more ‘friends’. Now it has evolved into an entirely different beast. Arguably the biggest change has been the integration with Smartphones, and specifically their cameras. Back when we were all on our Motorola Razr’s (still the coolest phone ever by the way), we had to traipse through the agonising steps of taking a photo on a camera, uploading it to the internet and waiting for the likes to come in. Now; snap, filter, upload. Seamlessly. The refining of this process has also opened up the world of video, from streaming live events, to ‘Stories’ and worldwide YouTube sensations. The next big turning point for Social Media will be Augmented Reality.

To many, the idea of technology that can alter our perception of reality is a firm no. But this is not what AR does; AR layers information on-top of our reality, through the use of a camera. This can be applied in a huge variety of ways, and has already been seen many times over, perhaps without you realising. Remember Pokémon Go? That’s AR. Ever used a Snapchat filter? That’s AR. Instagram now has live filters, that’s AR. These are the most common forms, but there can be no denying that AR is slowly become part of our lives, and we’re only at the beginning.

AR has been around since 1999, since NASA used it on the X38 Landing Craft interface. So it should come as no surprise that it has trickled down to day-to-day products. Unlike it’s cousin, Virtual Reality, it requires much less effort on the behalf of the user. VR requires the consumer to settle down with a huge headset, and more often than not, stay seated for the duration of the interaction. Although smaller headsets and more mobile applications are improving these conditions, it still has higher barriers to entry than AR. AR is readily available through devices we already own, and already know how to use. So, how will we see it evolve in our future?

Well, immediately we should expect to see more and more filters permeating every channel. Whilst we are restricted to facial filters, expect to see added elements for you to ‘enhance’ your surroundings. Such is the addition of Snapchat World Filters; introduced in April, this is an AR application like that seen with Pokémon Go. 3D objects are integrated with your video or image, becoming a fixed point in your virtual landscape as you and your camera move around.  

With ever increasing levels of technology these features will become more and more prevalent. Just as Instagram filters changed Social Media photos, so too will this change them. Every platform is looking for a way to use AR to help grow their channels. The success of each Social Media platform now rests on how they integrate this technology. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest are all investing in AR. Those who use it well will succeed, those who fail will fade into the social media graveyard (R.I.P Bebo).

pokemon go augmented reality virtual reality

Outside of Social Media, there have been attempts to facilitate AR use in wider technological programs. Google Glass was a first attempt of this kind, failing spectacularly. This is primarily due to consumer attitudes towards the product, specifically it’s aesthetic. Wearer’s of the product were affectionately nicknamed ‘Glassholes’. This product has been re-invented by Snap Inc., who released ‘Spectacles’, a simple sunglass shape with front cameras for ‘Point of View Snapping’. Not only are these cheaper than the Google Glass, they don’t actually have AR built into them. The AR is added at the app stage, on your phone.

This product was all about shifting consumer attitudes towards wearable devices, the hope being when the final products are released, adoption rates will be significantly higher.  The normalisation of AR devices is well underway however, the explosion of Pokémon GO made sure of this. Product development in years to come will see AR technology move from the hand, to the face, down possibly to the retina with direct control through an ever more advanced interface. The functionality of such devices would be huge, and has been tested with products like Microsoft Hololens.

Everyone is in a race. Samsung, Microsoft, Google and Apple have all expressed an interest in the industry, claimed to be worth $162billion by 2020. It is only a matter of time before the iLense, or something like that, is introduced. And when that happens, AR will be just R(eality).

Social Media is integral to people’s lives, every generation uses it more and more. Developments here will undoubtedly affect the world, its communications and understandings of technology in daily life. Augmented Reality is here to stay, the next few years will see it heavily integrated into social media and beyond.

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