Augmented reality apps could become a little too real

Nov 6, 2011
Tech

Ever since the Terminator movies (and probably before them, too) man has been obsessed with one goal: to put a lot of additional information on the same dimensional plane as the thing he is looking at directly. Schwarzenegger’s Terminator could look at you and determine whether you were hostile or not. Now, most of us […]

Ever since the Terminator movies (and probably before them, too) man has been obsessed with one goal: to put a lot of additional information on the same dimensional plane as the thing he is looking at directly.

Schwarzenegger’s Terminator could look at you and determine whether you were hostile or not. Now, most of us just want to know the number to the restaurant we’re pointing our iPhones at. But the idea remains the same.

For the most part, this has worked out well in the iPhone age. An app like SkyView – Explore the Universe ($1.99) lets us see the stars over our heads even if the night sky we live under is too bright to broadcast them normally. As a city dweller, I really do appreciate the thought, even if it’s a little like pretending you saw something you can’t actually see.

Now, Flow Powered by Amazon (free) has been released and I’m feeling slightly nervous. Flow gets awfully close to an information overload that I don’t want any part of. The app lets you pick up an item you could find at Amazon, like a book or video game, and it will show you the price it sells for on Amazon and provide you a link to buy it immediately.

As a stand-alone feature, that’s pretty cool. If you have the patience to wait for something to be shipped to you, you’re likely to save a few bucks on it by not walking out the door with it in your hand. That’s smart.

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But where does it stop? How far away am I from a reality where I order a cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant and point my phone at it only to recoil at the nutritional information that pops up on the screen?

I realize this entire thing is a bit of a straw man argument because I’d have to willingly download the app and then point it at my food, but just the idea that I might have a friend who would do exactly that while I’m eating and leave me to deal with the guilt ridden consequences, is enough to unsettle me a bit.

It’s not just food, either. For every SpyGlass ($0.99), an innocuous AR app that provides real compass directions for you wherever you are, there’s a SpotCrime ($2.99). SpotCrime takes the crime blotters you might read on the web and then overlays those crimes right on the city streets you’re looking at.

I did plenty of research before moving to my home, so I was aware of the general crime that’s expected in the area, but it’s a pretty heady thing to “see” it on your actual block. And as a nosy person, an app like SpotCrime would be a lot harder not to use regularly.

I guess sometimes I just want to be saved from my own neurosis, and the more we get into Terminator territory, the less I’m able to do so. I guess I’ll go drown my fears in a big, greasy cheeseburger. And I’ll leave my iPhone in the other room. You know, just in case.

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Dan Kricke

Dan Kricke has been playing with electronics and writing about them for years. He loved his Sega Dreamcast and now the PlayStation 3. On the iPhone, he's a fan of sports apps and anything that offers new music.

 

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