When we think of AR (augmented reality) we tend to think of digital data superimposed on our field of vision. But Bose is sticking to its wheelhouse and bringing audio to our augmented world. Hence AAR -- audio-augmented reality.
For me -- who started my career as a radio copywriter and producer -- it’s an intriguing idea. And it just might be a perfect match for how our senses parse the world around us.
Sound tends to be underappreciated when we think about how we experience the world, but that sense packs a hell of an emotional wallop.
Theme park designers have known this for years. They call it underscoring. That’s the music you hear when you walk down Main Street USA in Disneyland (which could be the "Desecration Rag" by Felix Arndt), or visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal (perhaps "Hedwig’s Theme" by John Williams). You might not even be aware of it. But it bubbles just below the level of consciousness, wiring itself directly to your emotional hot buttons.
Theme parks would be much less appealing without a sound track. The same is true for the world in general.
Cognitively, we process sounds entirely differently from how we process sights. Our primary sensory portal is through our eyes -- and because of this, it tends to dominate our attentional focus. This means the brain has limited bandwidth to process conflicting visual stimuli. If we layer additional information over our view of the world, as most AR does, we force the brain to make a context switch. We can’t concentrate on both at the same time.
But our brains can handle the job of combining sight and sound very nicely. We're evolved to automatically synthesize the two. Unlike visual information, sight and sound is not a zero sum game.
Bose made its announcement at SXSW, but I first became aware of the plan just last week, when I learned that Bose had bought Detour, a startup based in San Francisco that produced audio-immersive walking tours.
I was using the Detour platform to create audio tours that could be done on bike. At the end of February, I received an email abruptly announcing that access to the Detour platform would end the very next day.
I’ve been around the high tech biz long enough to know that there was more to this than just a simple discontinuation of the platform. There was another shoe that was yet to drop.
Last week, it dropped with the acquisition announcement by Bose, which noted the company is “'actively looking for a partner to host the Detour content,' and make it available to its customers, including those on Bose AR," according to a post on TechCrunch.
Although Detour never gained the traction that I’m sure founder Andrew Mason (who was also the founder of GroupOn) hoped for, the tours were exceptionally well-produced. I had the opportunity to take several of them while in San Francisco. It was my first real experience with augmented audio reality, and I felt like I was walking through a documentary. At no time did I feel my attention was torn. For the most part, my phone stayed in my pocket. It was damned near seamless.
Regular readers of mine will know that I’m more than a little apprehensive about the whole area of virtual and augmented reality. But I have to admit, Bose’s approach sounds pretty good so far.