While walking my dog last night I came upon a mother and her young son standing on the sidewalk. She was holding her smartphone high in front of her, pointing it toward the western sky.
As I came near she announced, “Mars and Venus.”
I learned the names of the planets and stars the old-fashioned way: standing outside on cold nights with my dad, and studying the sky atlas he gave me. But today I guess there’s an app for that. There are actually several apps, as a cursory Google search will attest.
I think it’s cool that you can aim your phone at the sky and learn the basics of stargazing. I think it’s very cool that many of the apps are using augmented reality.
When I got home I downloaded one such app, Sky Map. True to its name, Sky Map immediately gave me a clear, easy to use map of the heavens. I haven’t yet sussed out what all of the icons mean. But I had fun using the Time Travel feature to see the positions of the moon and planets on the day I was born.
Do I sound like a space geek? Guilty as charged.
When it comes to augmented-reality apps, though, I’m still unsure about a couple of things.
No business case?
Number one: the stargazing apps are very low-cost. Many, like Sky Map, are free. So it’s hard to see whether there’s a business case for using AR in training and technical communication.
I write documentation for networking hardware — switches and routers. I can easily imagine how customers would like AR documentation that shows them how to attach brackets to switches and mount them together in a rack. But does customers would like translate to customers would pay for? Or to customers would choose my company over our competitor?
In the absence of clear answers, would my company invest in the tools, time, and training needed to develop such documentation?
Not ready for prime time?
Number two (and maybe this follows from number one): it seems so far that AR is mostly the province of gamers and app developers — not technical communicators or training developers.
Most of the literature about AR in technical communication is still speculative. An article might say, for example, Here’s what AR is, and here’s how I think it could be applied to tech comm. Or: Everyone loves AR, and tech comm is on the verge of embracing it. I’ve seen only a handful of isolated case studies in which AR actually is being used for technical communication.
One such case study is General Motors’ myOpel app. GM began distributing the app to Opel owners a few years ago. Does anyone know if they’re still doing so? Or if they’ve expanded the idea to other brands? (A quick peek at Google Play reveals that myOpel is still available but it’s getting only tepid reviews.)
So, despite the star-struck articles (one of which — full disclosure — I wrote in 2013), I remain unconvinced.
What do you think? Do the stars say that AR will be a big part of technical communication’s future? Have you done AR work for technical communication or for training and if so, have you succeeded in making the business case for it?