Augmented Reality: the screen comes alive

I love magazines. I love reading them, I love finding scans online of fashion shoots I don’t have access to otherwise, and I love looking at behind the scenes content on the websites of my favourite publications. The magazine experience is reaching a whole new level of interaction, thanks to the integration of augmented reality (AR) into the reader, or I guess that should be user, experience.

The augmented version of Robert Downey Jnr comes to life in an issue of Esquire Magazine.

In November last year, Esquire Magazine published an issue dedicated to incorporating the technology, which is defined as the layering, or superimposition, of data such as graphics, audio and animation over live video. Here is an explanatory video from the magazine’s editor-in-chief:

As demonstrated in the video, the level of interactivity for the user is increased because the movement of the page on which the marker is located changes the nature of the animated content.

Another magazine to utilise the technology is Pop Magazine, which has made an AR iPhone app available. It uses the phone’s camera to scan a patterned image (referred to as a ‘marker’) on several pages of the magazine, allowing access to extra content. For the particular issue I read, these took the form of videos, with footage of the teen blogger Tavi, as well as the cover model Abbey Lee Kershaw.

An example of a page from POP magazine, notice the AR markers on the left page.

How can this new content be defined? It is not advertising, or a structured short film – it is a flexible, living, experience of a magazine that moves beyond the limits of the screen by enabling the virtual gaze.

Further to our discussion in class this week about the changing nature of the screen, the application of emerging screen-based forms to traditional print media forms is fascinating to explore. By exploiting the presence of video camera technology in many mobile devices, augmented reality technology realises the expansion of the mobilised virtual gaze that Friedberg identified as being restricted by the cinematic experience (1998, 261). In light of this, what are the implications for the immersive experience of watching film or television content delivered to us through a screen, as we sit immobile and silent?

One of the potential answers may be found in the another notable extension of the application of digital technology to static visual forms embodied in the ‘motion poster’; used recently to promote the films The Other Guys, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and the upcoming Tron Legacy.

I predict that in the future, audience members will expect more of an interactive, digital experience from the content they consume through the screen. This is already indicated by the popularity of 3D cinema , and if AR technology is expanded to become fully mobile through the development of a portable virtual reality headset, our experience as consumers of visual media could undergo a significant transformation.

Further Reading:

Friedberg, Anne (1998) ‘The Mobilised and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flaneur/Flaneuse’ in Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.), Visual Culture Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 253-278.

An explanation of the potential capabilities of augmented reality.

The step-by-step guide to Esquire Magazine’s development of augmented reality technology for editorial use.

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