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Is the phrase "augmented reality" becoming overused?

Every day I get a Google alert email with details of all the media coverage that contains the phrase “augmented reality”. The list is long and the topics being discussed seem to have very little in common.

Today, for instance, I read about a new “augmented reality” banking application that enables consumers to look at their bank account details by waving their debit card in front of their smartphone camera. Unless I am missing something that is simple image recognition, nothing more.

In evolutionary terms, the augmented reality industry has barely learned to stand on two legs, yet the very term that we use to describe the uniqueness of our technologies has been misappropriated by a whole host of unrelated businesses.

On an almost daily basis I am faced with the question of what augmented reality is. As the CEO of a company that makes optical solutions for wearable augmented reality devices, the answer is quite clear: augmented reality involves overlaying data and images onto a field of vision through a transparent medium, such as an optic.

Or, as the clever folk at Mashable put it: “Augmented reality is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.”

So that’s clear then. But unfortunately, the term is now being used for a whole range of applications that are gimmicky and typically designed for marketing or advertising purposes.

Because augmented reality is such a hot topic right now, half the creative agencies in the world are trying to crowbar it into whatever they are selling to clients.

Why does this matter?

Any new industry requires several things to fulfill its potential including access to capital and a market for products or services. Both of these things depend on an understanding of what you have to offer, its utility and its potential applications.

So when the term augmented reality is misused, it creates a whirlpool of misunderstanding. This in turn makes it harder for the true innovators in the sector to standout from the crowd.

In this instance, it is the marketing and advertising industry that is throwing around the term ‘augmented reality’ like a tipsy aunt throws confetti at a wedding.

Looking at a new outfit in a retail environment through an iPad is apparently augmented reality. Putting on a 3D laser show to launch a new high-rise property is augmented reality. And the list goes on.

Unfortunately, all this type of activity tends to strengthen the impression that augmented reality is more about providing gimmicks for marketing than something that will evolve into an industry which will have as great an impact on our lives as the mobile phone.

True innovators in the augmented reality industry – be they hardware manufacturers such as ourselves, software companies or consumer device producers need to double our efforts to educate the marketplace about the true nature of augmented reality.

I would welcome any thoughts that you have about how we go about doing that.

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