Esquire magazine recently released its new 'augmented reality' December issue. Readers were implored to download an app and then hold their magazine up to a webcam to make Robert Downey Jr (an appropriate subject given his well-publicised penchant for reality augmentation in the past) come to over-excited life. There's also a weather-dependent fashion portfolio, a time-sensitive updated Funny Joke from a Beautiful Woman and a few other slick features on offer.
Yes, it looks purty, it's certainly more interactive than paper and Esquire readers will presumably enjoy the extra content. But it's clutching at straws to call this 'augmented reality'. It's basically an advanced barcode scanner that activates recorded footage. It's also fairly difficult to imagine anyone wanting to use their magazine as a mouse for longer than 20 seconds. What's wrong with a website address?
Esquire says it's the first time augmented reality has been used in an editorial capacity, but it's not particularly new (or successful): the Cue Cat, which attempted to combine print and online with barcodes, failed; Popular Science also attempted something similar not long ago; and the Red Bulletin, which will launch in New Zealand in January, also offers additional webcam-related features online.
So could augmented reality actually serve a useful purpose for the publishing industry above shortlived gimmickry?
With the rapidly growing smart phone industry and mobile image recognition systems able to augment ads by "allowing users to capture images of products or logos and instantly receive relevant information on their mobile phones, thus creating interactivity between users and advertisers", the answer would appear to be yes, for the advertising sector at least.
But at present, this editorial augmentation smacks of print media striving to be more relevant. And it's rather ironic that the relevance of print has to be shown by incorporating digital technologies. As one commentator said, in trying to get noticed by the youth it got "beautifully ripped off by some guys on drugs" instead (the new squeezey, stretchy multimedia Sports Illustrated digital tablet magazine, however, appears to be a much more useful evolution).
Speaking of gimmicks, Burger Fuel caused some brief consternation for Auckland drivers a while back with its free fries promotion after 'infringement notices' were left on the windows of a number of cars throughout the city.
Mazda, .99 and Donovan Boyd PR also got in on the cheese by creating a 'Lost in Space'-style robot that scanned shoppers' smiles at Westfield malls and gave them a printout describing its characteristics.
The cheeky Mazda3 vehicle, supposedly dubbed 'The Smiling Assassin' by the media, also spoke to passing shoppers, complimenting them on their purchases and clothing and inviting them to count the number of smiles printed on the car’s windows to go in the draw to win $3,333 and a Canon camera.
If only David Hasselhoff was there.