If what technologists say is true, then at some point in the not-so-distant future we’ll be unburdened of our phones and will experience augmented reality through smart glasses instead. For now, though, we’re still standing en masse, pointing our phones at an unremarkable wall at a convention center in San Jose, California, all for the chance to see a simple AR animation.
That’s how the future was being represented this week at F8, anyway. The bulk of Facebook’s two-day developer conference was filled with the company’s vision for AR, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and privacy. But outside of the main stage and demo areas, conference-goers appeared more interested in the snacks and the three AR markers hidden in hallway walls.
“Welcome to F8!” read the ID badges that we were all required to wear around our necks. “You’re invited to participate in the F8 AR scavenger hunt. Find all of the ARtifacts to collect a prize. Before you start, download the latest version of the Facebook app and swipe right from News Feed to open your Facebook camera.” Like a bad permissions request, there was no indication of what the prize was once you’d given up your camera access for the cause.
Also embedded on the back of the badges was an AR map of the San Jose Convention Center: open your Facebook camera, point it at the flat map, and a volumetric version of the conference venue would pop up. Flashing beacons indicated where the ARtifacts were buried. I turned my phone four different ways as I held it above my badge and still had no idea where the special walls were.
That didn’t seem to deter people from playing. Groups of conference-goers, sometimes 20 at a time, stood wide-eyed in front of mostly plain, temporary walls, their arms extended with phones in their hands, Facebook cameras open and pointed at a logo. They stood for minutes at a clip. Through the lens of their phone cameras, a series of dots would appear while the app mapped the wall.
Eventually, a message from the Facebook AR gods would come through: a virtual sign popped out of the physical wall, with…
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