World Book Day Diminished Reality

March 11, 2013 at 7:45 pm (books, computers, kids) (, )

I hope all of you with children have gone out and got your free World Book Day books.  World Book Day is great – I really like to see anything that encourages people to buy books – not that we need any more in our house!  This year they come with something a little extra – you can download the world book day ‘Books Alive’ app (iOS and Android) and when you point your device at the book you get neat things happening.

Or maybe not so neat.  The technology is called augmented reality and it has great promise, but I’m afraid the World Book Day app is a bit of a gimmick.  For the four books we have, they only recognise the front page and then just play a video.  For one of the books, the author reads the story, which is nice, but for the others its the author saying a little about the book.  But it’s really not implemented very well – if you wiggle and it loses the book for a moment it resets.  This makes the whole experience a little like trying to watch YouTube through a wired network connection that passes through a shaky hand game – one jiggle and the video resets and starts again

And I have to say that the same thing could have been achieved a lot more reliably by using a simple QR code that links to an online video that then just plays.

This is a real wasted opportunity.  We could have had a short loop of Alfie and Annie Rose playing whilst sitting on the cover of our book.  We could have had Horrid Henry saying ‘nah nah ne nah nah’ at an appropriate page.  We could have had a scene from the Diamond Brothers or an animated Tom Gates cartoon.

Alas what we have is some cool technology that has been used to pointlessly replace the capabilities of existing technology.  For many this will be their first exposure to the world of augmented reality and most will see this and consider it far more trouble than it’s worth and in this instance I have to agree with them.  This example hasn’t provided any augmentation of the real world.  It’s just added a pointless frustration to it.  It’s a real shame.  I actually think it has detracted from the experience, by raising expectations and then disappointing.

Is there a lesson here?  Well I’d say don’t use a technology because you want to seem trendy or cool or because others are using it.  You have to use a technology because it adds something of value.  This could have added a lot.  In the end I think it took away.

The only saving grace for this one is that the kids got fed up with the tech and then settled down to read the book instead.  Maybe that was the real purpose of the technology all along?  A secret ploy to send mobile and e-book readers back to the written, paper, word?  I could live with that – I still like my books.  But I hate to say technology wasted and hate even more giving a promising technology a large exposure to a new audience and then not showing it off well.

Maybe in a few years we’ll all be wearing Google Glasses and the whole thing will just be part of the background noise of everyday life.  But for me, today, this really didn’t work out too well.  A real shame.



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