Let's be honest. As fun and cool as augmented reality can be, most AR implementations are long on WOW and short on substance. Having 3D objects pop from a magazine page, objects superimpose themselves wherever you point your camera, or rudimentary aim-and-shoot games virtually layered onto a tabletop are all interesting proofs of concept. But after trying many of these AR experiments, I am still attempting to find experiences with substance and stickiness. For instance, both Nintendo and Sony launched their latest-generation handheld consoles (the 3DS and Vita) with AR markers and virtual games, but who uses them after one try?
A genuinely interesting but still shallow implementation of AR comes to us in recent weeks from Goosebump Books and Trigger Global, which collaborated on a book of AR ghosts called Horrible Hauntings. The slim volume features ten famous ghost and haunting tales, from the Headless Horseman to the Flying Dutchman. Each two-page spread of the book has a traditional prose piece on the left and full-page background painting on the right. Unlike many AR “enhancements” to physical objects, in this case the iOS or Android app really is needed to complete the rendering. Aim the phone or tablet at the page and a 3D rendering pops out of the background. This is the first instance I have seen where the AR is not just an enhancement of physical media, but the book itself is more of an excuse and setting for the AR.
The interesting part of this book is the range of AR demos (and really they still are demos) it contains. They make interesting use of the spatial dimension when Abraham Lincoln struts in circles practicing a speech or the Headless Horseman gallops endlessly from the page. The sensation of having characters move out of the book and into your familiar space is engaging, at least at first.
Like many of the early AR games, there is basic interactivity in some panels: making haunted objects swirl around a room or playing kickball with skeletons (sounds like more fun than it is), breathing into the sails of the Flying Dutchman and invoking the spirit of “Bloody Mary” by saying her name. Which is fine at first. As my wife said when we played through the book, for the young child who enjoys repetitive readings and repeating simple activities nightly, an AR effect like this no doubt is fun and useful. If someone isn’t working on an AR version of Goodnight Moon, then they should. The prospects for making AR an engaging educational reading tool seem boundless.
But it all begs the question of getting AR out of the demo stage, where small engagements continue to provide small moments of dazzle and the “proof of concept” gets to really conceptualizing what this approach can do. For mobile marketers, looking for that little something (anything) extra to engage the customers for a second more, then even shallow AR has a function. But if book and magazine publishers want this platform to make sense as a persistent tool, then we need to start thinking about AR as a narrative device. Horrible Hauntings is a baby step insofar as the AR is playing with mood, surprise, the effect of crafting a virtual 3D stage.
What is next?