Augmented Reality Was Just Crap Until This Happened

Augmented Reality for me was just for entertainment purposes until i experienced this real-life actual usecase and that too by accident itself

Photo by Andreas Kind on Unsplash

Until recently like many others, i was also of the opinion that Augmented Reality (AR) is just another hyped buzz word and useful for recreational purpose like gaming or at maximum for education use only. This all changed for me when I had my very first experience of Augmented Reality (AR) solving a REAL LIFE problem, all by chance and rather by accident only. Let me tell you it is not the first time that i experienced AR but still it was my “OMG” or “Aha” moment.

I would say 3 factors that created this wow effect:

First, it had that surprise element for me when i used it accidently, i was not expecting anything of that sort.

Second, it actually solved my immediate problem i was facing so there was real benefit which is much more than just fun or entertainment value and

Third, but most important personally to me, it was about digital technology and customer experience.

Here is my first hand experience and how AR helped me out:
Few months back i was travelling to Bangkok for some personal work and as it was just for one day only, I was travelling light and had only my backpack to carry. Although I have been to Bangkok many times earlier for both business and personal travel but those were always pre arranged airport pickup. For a change this time i decided to ditch taxi and use public transport. So as I searched for options online, BTS which is a sky train service was highly recommended both on ease of travel and economical as well. And since I had heard about it so thought why not try it and see how it fares against Delhi Metro back in India.

Photo by Suzanne Emily O’Connor on Unsplash

It in fact turned out to be a good decision as my hotel happened to be just 400 meters from the nearest BTS station and it was not that difficult searching for the right BTS station online as their website is also good. Well it was all good so far until the time i got off at my destination station. As usual, very confidently I opened Google Maps to search for directions to my hotel. Well there it was, all my excitement and adventure came crashing and I started thinking what the heck, now Imight have to do an Uber or Grab to reach my hotel which although is so near and walking distance. I was clueless about which direction to go. I am sure many of you must have faced this problem at metro stations after coming out from the metro and wondering which side of the station to go if you are there for the first time. On top of that imagine being in a new country and not knowing the local language to ask other commuters for directions.

While i was standing there confused and cursing what use are of these high-end phones with GPS and compass, and was about to close the Google Maps app, suddenly the view on my mobile screen changed and the rearview camera got invoked with some overlaid 3D graphics (to be honest i don’t remember if I pressed some icon or it just happened automatically). For a movement I got scared and thought there is some virus in my mobile. Just when i was about to shut down my mobile, I realized these were direction arrows and then I started fiddling around and moved my camera in different directions. (Check this screen record video below or click here)

Yes this was my WOW movement. I was experiencing Google Maps’ Augmented Reality (AR) enabled version called LIVE VIEW. It indeed was such a pleasant experience and it was so accurate that it guided me to the correct direction up till my destination.

The first thing i did after check-in to my hotel was search for what this feature is all about. Google launched LIVE VIEW service as beta version in Aug 2019 within its Google Maps. With Live View, users can use augmented reality (AR) to better understand which way to go. They have placed arrows and directions in the real world to guide the way, helping users to identify exactly where to make those tricky turns or which way to start the walking journey.

LIVE VIEW screenshots at BTS station Bangkok

Here are the conditions for use of or rather restrictions with LIVE VIEW:
- LIVE VIEW is available on ARCore and ARKit enabled devices only.
- It is available only in locations where Street View is available.
- It is available only for Walking Navigation.
- For LIVE VIEW to be effective and work it has to be outdoor and in well-lit area.

Unfortunately LIVE VIEW is not available for everyone and everywhere but yeah obviously and logical as well. It requires the devices to support that technology and if street view is not available it is not possible to map the current view with. Personally the biggest dampener is that it is not available in India as of now and there does not seem to be any plans to make it available in near future since street view is banned by the government of India for security reasons.

This is how you can test out the LIVE VIEW (of course if all the above mentioned conditions are met):
- Search for a location you want to walk to or tap it on a map
- Tap on the directions button at the bottom
- Select walking directions at the top of the screen
- Tap on the new Live View option at the bottom of the screen

Below is a video on how to use LIVE VIEW feature or just click here.

As a product manager, this is very important and critical learning here to not just solve the bigger problem but also ironing out those small glitches which could be major hurdles (or rather value add) for some users. And this can only be understood either by living the life of a user in&out or by listening to customer feedback.

As product manager it is very important to be the biggest critic of your own product and keep on looking at ways to improve user experience.

I have suggestions here for the Google Maps Product Managers on user onboarding. This again is from my own experience during my recent visit to Dubai where LIVE VIEW is available. As i happened to be in a similar situation trying to figure out which direction to go but in spite of me having experienced LIVE VIEW once i forgot about this option at all and was struggling to find my way and then saw this small icon for LIVE VIEW on screen and remembered to use it. So my suggestion is that whenever all the required conditions for LIVE VIEW (as mentioned above) are met, a small popup notification should be displayed to the user to invoke LIVE VIEW. Especially a check to be there for non user and repeat user (ofcourse many scenarios can be created). I am very sure with this small feature, there will be multiple fold increase in new users adoption and overall usage of this functionality.

Well again this is all about getting into customer shoes and understanding usage behaviors and aspirations. I hope Google Maps or LIVE VIEW product teams implements this. But three cheers to AR implementation and solving a real user need.

Have you experienced LIVE VIEW on google maps? Do share what was it like using for the first time or any other use case of AR in general. Would love to learn from you. You may also share on my LinkedIn profile here.

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Manpreet Ghuman

Student @ school of life | Techno-commercial marketer by profession | Philomath, scrupulous and affable by nature | On eternal journey in pursuit of happiness