Last fall I interviewed Cindy Walas for Augmented Reality – Not Just for Special Effects. She’s the founder of Walas Younger LTD, a Chicago-area print management firm. Though I haven’t met Cindy, I know her to be an AR expert and in general, a seriously skilled print professional.
I wondered about advances in AR, so I contacted Cindy again for her insights. Her colleagues Tony Calo* and Kevin Keane** were also contributors to this post. They’re all knowledgeable print authorities and passionate about this technology.
What I learned surprised me.
MD: Where is AR headed, Cindy?
We’re beginning to think that AR will split into different areas.
First, there’s AR as Immersive Technology (via heads-up displays, glasses, headsets and other wearables.) This AR will be closer to VR (Virtual Reality), more of a cinema effect, possibly becoming more integrated into wearable technology for medical use and other areas.
Dr. Helen Papagiannis*** feels that AR, wearable technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are all really about human augmentation. The greater goal, according to Helen, would require seeing beyond just the technology and looking at systems to better enable and serve human needs.
Then, through IR (Image recognition), AR will move towards visual search engines. (An image search is an engine that defines an image. Imagine being able to identify a random flower you come across by pointing your smartphone at it, then getting all sorts of related information about it – all from an image.) It is our contention, expressed respectfully, that visual search in the long run will not foster more print. In fact, one can envision the day when print is largely not relevant. Imagine that the embroidered sports team logo on your baseball cap is a visual search marker. Imagine the same thing with, for example, the metal street sign on a street corner (maybe even the street lamp itself), or actual buildings like the Taj Mahal, the Empire State Building, or St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Right now, print is the most commonly known, most widely available, and most fairly priced trigger, or launch pad, for interactive engagement. But we believe this will change.
As the posting of every single thing we see (images, faces, items, live events) to the cloud moves inexorably forward, we fear that, at some point, print will no longer be the essential launch pad to interactive engagement via AR.
For example, look at how the auto industry is embracing AR. Some companies are using it to create digital showrooms where customers can configure their car, and see and hear it in this augmented space. Others are developing wearables to communicate with their cars. AR can also be quite a useful learning tool for driving instructors and simulators. It’s all really great technology, but none of this is print-related. No manuals, sales literature, or even sales people are involved.
Therefore, we feel that printing companies who are thinking about their future would do well to tread carefully with Image Recognition. And we offer another way, an alternative to IR-based platforms. As Kevin likes to point out, “AR is good for print, #interactiveprint is even better for print for evermore.”
Through Interactive Print (IP), AR will become a more practical way to link print to the digital world (IoT). Tony Calo ran across a quote recently about “joining digital to bricks & mortar.” Very aptly put!
MD: That’s a mouthful of acronyms. Tell us more about IR (Image Recognition) vs. IP (Interactive Print).
There’s been an ongoing discussion recently as to the difference between IR and IP, and the consequences that can arise. Both my recent LI blog “Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts” and a posting by Kevin Keane in the LinkedIn Disruptive Print group address the differences & “perils” between the two.
Quite a few of the better-known AR platforms are IR-based. Kevin relates a recent story about two professional photographer colleagues who produced some AR work for a client using one of the well-known IR platforms. The client loved it, asked for information about the platform and – you guessed it – decided to go direct to the platform provider and do it himself.
As Kevin points out, “many printing company executives are feeling pressures today – from declining volumes, ever shorter run lengths, the digital denouement and more. They have been exhorted to add value to their printed offerings, and AR seems a logical, digital and exciting way to do that. But if some of the leading AR platforms are just using the print company as a means of getting into bed with the print company’s clients, that’s not terribly ethical and begs our question – should a print company partner with an AR platform provider (most often an IR platform) who is going to cut them out of the client relationship?”
A similar scenario took place between a well-respected print equipment supplier and one of the well-known AR platforms. As Tony Calo says, it’s all about control – by the client, by the software folks, and so on. Clients realize, why go through a printer when you can go direct? But paying less can be expensive. Like DIY websites and the like, you get what you pay for.
With Interactive Print (IP), the process goes through a pre-press system or even through a machine manufacturer. This puts print back in control, as a service offered through the printer, and service should equal ROI.
If you think about it, a DIY solution limits you to the choices the system offers. Printers that offer Interactive Print solutions should offer them as part of their print service. The printer needs to demonstrate that his or her service offers the best solutions with good ROI. That’s what the clients are looking for – results.
Image Recognition (IR) is not primarily focused on print, but just sees print as a medium to gain clients. IR is a Trojan horse for print. We need to keep the focus on print.
MD: Is AR still a sleeper technology? Why aren’t more companies utilizing it?
It is a bit perplexing to us as to why it’s not more prevalent. There’s been a lot more coverage recently, but we need to take it beyond the gimmicky, special effects arena. Tony and Stampatech are looking to tie the technology to pragmatic solutions – anti-counterfeiting, authenticity, payments, barcodes, more rapid retail checkout and more, in addition to videos, recipes, manuals et al.
He feels we have to work to create the demand for printers by convincing their end users (their print customers) that they want to buy this, via marketing programs aimed at those customers.
MD: How is AR advancing?
We see it developing in the labeling (via Smart labels) & packaging, CD/DVD replacement in books and the educational sectors, catalogs for viewing and ordering, and pairing with VDP for individualized experiences. Kevin is convinced that the whole logistics print segment (printed labels, printed packaging, etc.) is the sweet spot for the killer application of interactive print.
MD: Any stats about AR usage that you can share?
The explosive growth of mobile is impacting AR. At its core, AR is very visual and immediate in its delivery of enjoyment. We think that mobile devices are perfectly suited to leverage the move to mobile. And they empower some of the best attributions of AR triggered from print – engagement, education, entertainment, and enjoyment. Mobile navigation has progressed even faster than originally projected. By the end of 2014, it was anticipated that mobile navigation would overtake static navigation. In a study by eMarketer, the mobile market’s expected to reach 5.13 billion users globally by 2017. Mobile use is now up to 2/3 of overall usage in some areas. So the potential audience for AR is growing ever faster.
MD: Knock my socks off! What can we expect with AR down the line?
Here are a few AR developments I know about, though a lot of them are still in R&D, so I’ll share more when I can:
-Economical authentication printing via a combination of digital and VDP, even 3D foil and raised printing, in infinite combinations.
-Textile printing. What better way to authenticate your Armani suit or Louis Vuitton bag as genuine? Point your phone or barcode scanner at the cloth to verify that it is genuine.
I want to thank Cindy as well as Tony Calo and Kevin Keane for their insights about where Augmented Reality is headed, how print is affected, and why we should watch developments in Image Recognition and Interactive Print as well. Your comments are welcome!
* Tony Calo is CEO and Project Director of StampaTech, which offers an interactive print technology to print providers worldwide.
** Kevin Keane is a cyber law attorney and is Director of International Business Development for Retail Packaging Matters, LLC.
***Dr Papagiannis is an augmented reality specialist, speaker, author and consultant.
My suggestion? Connect with them all, including Cindy Walas, on LinkedIn.
( c) Margie Dana 2015