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Augmented reality: Will it revolutionize print?

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Virtual reality is so yesterday.

Another budding technology is gaining a foothold with consumers, allowing them to view images and text in a futuristic way.

Call it ‘’augmented reality,’’ or AR.

‘’It’s still very sci-fi to people,’’ said Lisa Murphy, product marketing manager for metaio, a German company that has pioneered AR-related software.

Such software melds a real-world image or environment with a digital landscape via a webcam or supported smartphone, currently the iPhone and Android.

There are practical applications for it: Use an AR app on your smartphone while outdoors and the screen will show the nearest spots to shop, eat or find a venue to see a movie or concert.

AR also breathes life into a static photo, such as on a newspaper page or on product packaging. The picture is enhanced with a layer of video and sound when a user views it through their phone or computer monitor.

Last year, Esquire magazine used AR for an issue featuring actor Robert Downey Jr. When readers held the cover up to a webcam, they could see an image of Downey walking on the page.

AR ’’was a thrilling way to give readers a whole new understanding of what paper and ink and a little technology are capable of,’’ said Esquire Editor-in-Chief David Granger. ‘’The key was that people had to have the magazine to enable the magic.’’

Granger said the buzz surrounding the issue was so ‘’gratifying,’’ that they plan to incorporate AR into Esquire’s February issue.

Some are asking whether AR can provide a significant boost to print publications or is it merely a gimmick for the industry?

John V. Pavlik, department chair for journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, said AR and similar technologies have the ability to catch on as long as consumers find them ‘’compelling and easy to use.’’

Mort Goldstrom, vice president of advertising for the Newspaper Association of America, said cost and user frequency will help to determine whether the technology is here to stay.

‘’For advertisers, the great thing is it extends the message beyond the printed page,’’ he said. ‘’But to what degree does (a reader) really want to bother with them? It’s too soon to tell.’’

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