Yesterday at the 7thMassMedia.com blog I posted of the latest discovery into the abilities of mobile as the seventh mass media channel (first six mass media are in chronological order print, recordings, cinema, radio, TV and the internet). When I first conceived the Seven Mass Media taxonomy four years ago, I only had four unique abilities of mobile as a mass medium (obviously mobile is many things more than a media channel, it is for example a communication tool and a payment method, these also have unique abilities, consider SMS text messaging, being the most private of all forms of electronic communication, or consider the mobile phone as the payment processing system in a mobile payments situation, something that the credit card or cash can't do, etc). The first four are very widely referenced being 'personal, permanently carried, always on, and has built-in payment system.' All of these are unique abilities of mobile as a mass medium, something that print, radio, cinema, TV and even the internet cannot replicate, at least not in a commercially viable way, today.
Then in 2006 my friend and author Tony Fish of AMF Ventures discovered the 5th unique benefit, that mobile is available at the point of creative impulse - ie the user-generated content that we for example create with our cameraphone when we take a citizen journalism picture of the plane landing on the Hudson River in New York. Tony also discovered the 6th unique ability of mobile in 2007, that it has the most accurate audience measurement of any mass media, and is more accurate in its audience measurements even against the previus master, the internet, by a factor of 9X more accurate in identifying the total audience. The 7th unique ability was then discovered by two of my dearest frieneds, 'our' Alan Moore (CEO of SMLXL) and Jouko Ahvenainen (then Chairman of Xtract) last year in 2008; who have since also written a book together, Social Media Marketing, where they discuss this aspect as well. The 7th benefit is that only mobile captures the social context of our media consumption.
Now we have the 8th unique ability. Its discovery is credited to Raimo van der Klein of Layar the Augmented Reality browser, out of the Netherlands, which (Layar that is) is currently just about the hottest story in all of the mobile telecoms industry. Raimo is a long term good friend of mine as well, from MoMo Amsterdam (Mobile Monday for those not familiar with the term) and very well known in the Dutch and European mobile industry circles. Raimo and I were having some chats on Twitter and at the 7thMassMedia.com blog and came to the conclusion that yes, Augmented Reality is indeed the 8th unique ability of mobile as a mass medium. Yet another thing that mobile can do as a mass medium for you, that other older mass media cannot match. Congratulations to Raimo, this will go into the next book obviously. And now we have the brand-spanking new list of why mobile is a different mass media channel, and what makes it unique:
1st unique ability - mobile is personal
2nd unique ability - mobile is permanently carried
3rd unique ability - mobile is always on
4th unique ability - mobile has a built-in payment channel
5th unique ability - mobile is available at the point of creative impulse
6th unique ability - mobile is most accurate at measuring its audience
7th unique ability - only mobile can capture the social context of consumption
8th unique ability - only mobile can offer augmented reality
For those who are not exactly sure what some of those unique abilities really are, you can read the full explanation here and if you want my latest update of the thinking of mobile as the newest mass medium, please read this.
Now, just in case you happened not to know exactly what is this augmented reality, let me give two quick examples, both from Layar. First is their browser, and it illustrates 'media content' perfectly. You need to have a cameraphone for augmented reality - and two thirds of all phones on the planet are cameraphones. Usually that is not enough, like Layar itself requires also that you have a smartphone such as an Android operating system smartphone. But AR definitely requires a cameraphone. How does Layar work? You point your cameraphone at some view in your city. The normal view in the cameraphone screen is that of the city. Then you turn on Layar. You still see the city, but superimposed upon the image, are specific dots with further information - here is a Pizza Hut, here is a cash machine, here is the nearest toilet, here is the museum, this apartment is for sale, etc. To do this type of 'augmented reality browser' the phone needs both the GPS for precise location-positioning, and the compass ability, so the phone 'knows' in which direction you are pointing the cameraphone. You cannot have the dot of the Pizza Hut above the McDonald's... Note that the 'media content' here is the dot that is only visible in your cameraphone screen - and then we can add information - click here to get a coupon for the museum, or click here to see the menu and prices at the restaurant, etc.
It is the same concept as fighter pilots have had for many years now, where when they look out of the cockpit, and see the view outside, the clouds and sky, and they see a couple of other jet fighters, the computerized radar and plane tracking systems of the modern jet fighter, will put little green circles around those fighter planes who are on your side, and little red circles around the fighters who are your enemies. This way, as you maneouver doing rapid turns of 6 G's, twisting in the sky, you don't accidentially start to shoot at your own guys. Like very many innovations in our consumer lives, this - augmented reality - found its first uses in the military. But now we have it in our phones.
What can we do with it now? The opportunities are almost endless. We can expect many games in this area, like hunting for ghosts perhaps or UFO's as AR is very suited for showing things that do not exist in reality. It could be used to show new buildings what they look like in their intended habitat, before they are built, or as various options are considered. The beauty is that you can create 3 dimensional images that you can then 'walk around' and see from all sides, as is now being used in innovative ad campaigns such as Ford doing for some of its cars. And we can well imagine AR used in museums, so if you see Churchill's desk in the real world, you could then use your cameraphone to see the Prime Minister sitting at his desk. Or you could see the bones of a dynosaur, and then through AR, see the same dinosaur but what it looked like with its skin and in its habitat. The opportunities are endless - what of the historical church, that was bombed in the war. Its been restored now, but through your cameraphone, with AR, you could see the church how it looked after the bombing, and see a recreation of the restoration perhaps...
One of the coolest things for me personally so far out of AR is a German service called Vesseltracker. It is intended as a 'poor man's radar' where your cameraphone, using Augmented Reality - and connected obviously to the network. The harbor area will have mapped out all ships with their real radar. Then they offer this info also on maps. So the Layar system can combine these and give you the equivalent benefit of a radar - by using the exact GPS positioining of your boat, and then letting you look with the cameraphone slowly panning around your boat, and even if it is a foggy day and you can't see anything in the real world, the Vesseltracker will accurately offer you the 'dot' and indicate which ship that is (its name) and most importantly its distance from you and its direction of movement. Brilliant!
Augmented Reality is the 8th unique benefit of mobile as our newest mass media channel. You cannot do augmented reality in print like in a newspaper or book or magazine; or in the cinema or radio or in recordings like CDs, DVDs, videogames and computer programs; you can't do AR on TV, not on analog broadcast TV, not on cable or satellite TV, not on digital TV, not on HD TV, not even on IPTV. And you can't do Augmented Reality on the internet, not on your desktop, your laptop, your notebook or even your netbook. You can only do AR on a modern mobile phone that is also a cameraphone. And we can deliver media content to the audience via AR, so it is a valid mass media concept. Yes, AR is the 8th unique ability of mobile as a mass media channel.
For any bloggers or reporters who discuss the seven mass media taxonomy, or the unique abilities of mobile, please from now on, update the story to say 8 unique benefits, ok?