Monday, April 24, 2017

Snapchat’s smart pivot into an AR company but is AR ready for learning?

Augmentation, in ‘augmented’ reality, comes in all shapes, layers and forms, from bulky headsets and glasses to smartphones. At present the market has been characterised by a mix of expensive solutions (Hololens), failures (Google Glass, Snap Spectacles) and spectacular successes (Pokemon Go, Snapchat Filters). So where is all of this going?
SnapChat has pivoted, cleverly, into being not just another messenger service, but the world’s largest Augmented Reality company. Its ‘filters’, that change every day, use face recognition (AI) and layered graphics to deliver some fun stuff and more importantly, advertising. It is a clever ploy, as it plays to the personal. You can use fun filters, create your own filter with a piece of dynamic art or buy one. It’s here that they’re building an advertising and corporate business on designed filters around events and products. That’s smart and explains why their valuation is stratospheric. Once you play around with Snapchat, you get why it’s such a big deal. As usual, it’s simple, useful, personal and compelling. With over 150 million users and advertising revenue model, that works on straight ads, sponsored filters and sponsored lenses (interactive filters), it has tapped into a market that simply never existed.
Snap Spectacles
Snap Spectacles was their interesting foray into the glasses augmented market – but more of a gimmick than realistic consumer product. Targeted only at Snapchat users, you can’t really wear them with regular glasses and all they do is record video – but, to be fair, they do that well. However, as with Google Glass, you feel like a bit of a twat. Not really a big impact product.
With its AI driven interfaces – point head, gesture or voice recognition, it is neat but at $3000 a pop – not really a commercial proposition for Microsoft. As for the ‘experience’, the limited rectangle, that is the field of view, is disappointing, and ‘killer’ applications absent. There have been games, Skype applications, 2D & 3D visualisations but nothing yet that really blows the mind – forget the idea of Sci-fi holograms, it’s still all a bit ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ in feel, still tethered and has a long way to go before being a viable product.
Magic Leap
Bit of a mystery still as they are a secretive lot. Despite having raised more than $1.4 billion from Google, Alibaba and Andreessen Horowitz, it has still to deliver whatever it is that they want to deliver. Mired in technical problems, they may still pull something out of the bag with their glasses release this year – but it seems you have to wear a belt with some kit attached. Watch this space, as they say, as it is nothing but an empty space for now.
Pokemon Go
We saw the way this market was really going with Pokemon Go, layers of reality on a smartphone. Photographic Camera layer, idealised graphic map layer, graphic Pokemon layer, graphic Pokestops layer, GPS layer, internet layer – all layered on to one screen into a compelling social and games experience. Your mind simply brings them altogether into one conscious, beautiful, blended reality – more importantly, it was fun. This may be where augmented reality will remain until the minaturisation of headsets and glasses get down to the level of contact lenses.
I still prefer the full punch VR immersive experience. AR, in its current form is a halfway house experience. The headset and glasses seem like a stretch for all sorts of reasons. You simply have to ask yourself, do I need all of this cost and equipment, to see a solar system float in space, when I can see it in 3D on my computer screen? There are clearly many situations in which one would want to ‘layer’ on to reality but in many learning situations, there may be simpler solutions.
So let’s look at specific learning outcomes that could be delivered and enhanced by Augmented Reality.
1. Explanations
Explanations, causes, rules, processes… delivered as text, audio, 2D, 3D images in physics, chemistry, biology, hydraulics, pneumatics, maths and so on. The superimposition of explanatory diagrams, arrows, flows and explanations, have obvious theoretical and practical applications, delivering explanations in the context of the real world. Performance support is another option with ‘contextual’ learning to increases retention & recall. The delivery of explanations, determined by your own personal needs and identified context is appealing in training.
2. Problem solving
Explore real places: museum, art gallery, virtual excursion, virtual experience, real factory and solve real problems in maths, science, language, historical, architectural and natural environment. This problem solving can be task driven in induction/on-boarding, fault finding, maintenance tasks, language learning and so on.
3. Learn by doing
We largely learn by doing but are largely taught while doing nothing. With a hands-free device you can return to more appropriate forms of learning by doing. Motion sensing & GPS helps enormously and you can’t fool it easily, which is useful in assessment. Do experiments/tasks in science, practical tasks and learn skills, cheap devices in AR could revolutionise vocational learning.
4. Social learning
Groups (Pokemobs) out in real world, searched & completed tasks showing that the social dimension in learning can be enhanced. AR, such as Hololens, does give you contact, via Skype, with others, so that they can draw and you see it appear on your display. So there are social possibilities.
5. Tutor-led
There are signs that Magic Leap have a tiny assistant that sits in your hand, then there’s Skype on AR, which can offer tutoring at a distance for groups of learners.
Tutor-led/assisted, with a real or created tutor (AI-driven bot or avatar) can make the learning more personal & adaptive.
6. Deliberate/spaced practice
Learning can be enhanced by deliberate practice. AR gives us the opportunity to practice, again and again, repeat a skill in different contexts, offer adaptive and tutor-led deliberate practice.
7. Simulations
Critical training for the police, fire & emergency with realistic augmentation of bombs, fires, damage and casualties is all possible. Control layers can be used to test & train simultaneously to deliver lessons about optimal tactics. Things can appear and happen in certain timeframes. Already used by NASA, closed, limited or open-world simulations are all possible.
8. Assessment
For vocational training one could test learners (uniquely identified) in real time as assessment would not be separate from performance. Assessment at a distance is also possible.
9. M-learning
As we saw with Pokemon Go and now with Snapchat filters, AR gives you a compelling reason to use your phone, a powerful, personal and portable AR device. It is AR that may open the floodgates to new and fascinating forms of m-learning.
10. Habitual learning
Mobile behaviour is highly habitual and AR could mean frictionless and more habitual learning. It opens up possibilities in informal learning, making blended learning and 70:20:10 realisable.
RR – Real Reality
But before you start, do the RR test – that’s Real Reality. It may be better to stick to the real physical world. Consciousness is, after all a form of augmented reality – it is reality reconstructed by the brain. A text or podcast allows us to layer in the imagination, a form of augmentation that can be more useful in learning than trite imagery. AR can be delivered via screens. You need to think carefully before letting this technology, especially in its immature form, lead you towards expensive projects that may be better delivered by more conventional technology.

Augmented reality is not one thing – it’s best seen as a way of layering, altering or interacting with reality. At present all the action is on smartphones. In a sense Google Maps and GPS-like applications are augmentations. Pokemon Go showed the potential, albeit with a flash in the pan application but it is Snapchat, with its filters that has had the most sustainable success. Their move towards augmentation has been clever and you can expect a lot more from them. I’m less convinced by Hololens and Google seems, once again, to have failed in product development with Google Glass, as there have been no further releases. As usual consumers are attracted by fun not functionality.

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