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Augmented Reality eBooks Are Fraught with Technical Problems

People are putting video, audio, and interactive content in t

heir books, but I’m pretty sure that we’ll never see augmented reality added to an ebook.

A couple weeks back I posted on a new augmented reality book that was just published. The authors had posted an augmented reality demo that you could try, and I had a poor experience. The idea didn’t seem to work all that well, but it did get me interested in the idea.

I got to wondering on how well this would work with an ebook.

I hadn’t heard about anyone having tried this before, and that was a surprise. We live in an experimental era. Lots of developers are trying new things but none have tried this.

Now, if you’re not familiar with augmented reality, let me give a brief explanation. Do you know how movie makers can add all sorts of visual imagery around real actors? With augmented reality, you can kinda do the same thing and you can do it in real time. You just need the right computer, camera, and software.

In this case we need a webcam, a book with the right symbols (AR keys) printed in it, and we need the right app (provided by the publisher). We also need a live internet connection. If you’d like to see a demo, you can check out this old post on The Search for WondLa, a children’s book that was published in 2010. Or you can watch the demo video on Youtube.

But this post is about augmented reality ebooks, so that print demo doesn’t really help much. Luckily for us, the ebook version of WondLa also has the AR keys found in the print edition.  You can see them in the lead photo; that’s my KDX and Samsung Galaxy Tab.

I bought the ebook and then went to the WondLa website to try it. Things went downhill from there. First I had to install the necessary software and restart my web browser. Then I was prompted to do it again because it didn’t work the first time.

I have the software installed correctly now, and it looks like it is running.  But no matter how I hold the AR key, the software just doesn’t seem to recognize it. All I see on my screen is me waving around an ereader, not the augmented reality map which is supposed to appear.

It turns out that the website that is supposed to support this particular project hasn’t been updated in a couple years, and it has since stopped working. But I’m not sure how much that mattered because I feel that simply setting this up just to try an augmented reality ebook was more effort than it was worth (even if it had worked).

Why not make it easier on the reader? Since I am already staring at my laptop screen, why not just put the content on Youtube or wherever and let me watch it there?

In fact, I’m growing less and less fond of the whole idea. I’m not sure that there is any value in augmented reality in a paper book, either. It’s beginning to feel like it’s just a gimmick.

If you ask me, I think it will go the way of the optical illusion. It’s an interesting trick but really not much more than a distraction.

P.S. If anyone knows of other books that use augmented reality, please let me know. Two data points isn’t enough to make a final decision.

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Mogens Nielsen February 8, 2012 um 2:31 pm

I know this is sort of tacky but if augmented reality like this :
was added to the eBook version of a physical book, I could see how such a package could be a hit in the book stores. You would be able to add features only available if you had both the physical and the digital copy.

Nate Hoffelder February 8, 2012 um 2:38 pm

That’s not tacky; it’s exactly how I think AR should be used (some of them anyway). The concept works best when the screen and camera are between the user and the subject. But I don’t think we’ll ever see those demo as an ebook. Apps, maybe.

Mogens Nielsen February 8, 2012 um 3:16 pm

Well the ad was a little tacky 🙂
That said I honestly think it would be a great way for bridging the digital/physical market. If you had both you would get exclusive content only accessible through dedicated app.
I recall a few special edition versions of Mr. Bean by Rowan Atkinson. It had a booklet (aka Mr.Bean’s calendar ) with some very funny stuff in it. However the publishing industry is not going to make special editions of a physical book to bundle it with its digital counterpart because that simply doesn’t make sense. What do make sense is to offer some incentive (not prize but content) to buy those bundles.
Imagine if you will how cool and interactive “The Da Vinci Code” could have been with augmented reality.
I see a market here.

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