Tis the season to reflect and review the year that’s about the scuttle its caboose into 2010.  It’s been a huge year for augmented reality after decades of R&D, finally hitting the public’s awareness.  Unfortunately, not all applications of the nascent technology showcased its possibilities.  Instead, some slapped it into use without careful forethought and understanding of why augmented reality will be one of the most important technological aspects of our collective futures. 

So I present what I believe are the 10 worst uses of augmented reality in 2009.  I’m only looking at the commercial applications of AR, because R&D should be given the freedom to test code without stringent use-cases to guide its development.  And often the commercial AR was bad because it was rushed onto market in a lame attempt to cash in on growing hype. 


10.  Hangman

While I never found an actual release of this game, the demo alone at the Tampa Internet and Technology Summit 2009 made me grimace in pain.  Hopefully HD Interactive scuttled their AR plans after this demo and redrew their strategy.  When I first saw this video, it inspired me to write this post


9. Firefighter 360

The “360” in the name is appropriate because you’ll be spinning in circles putting out fires.  This app is similar to many others released that have a live camera feed, but don’t actually connect to any real world objects.  The fires and firetrucks are reached through a console controller style interface.  To really be AR, I would expect players to have to move around. 


8. Mosquitoes

The description for the game reads — “This fun game uses the compass and accelerometer for a super realistic ‘augmented reality’ effect.”  If you have to use the word super for your game, then you’re probably not going to be successful.  If the mosquitoes actually landed on me or I had to move around the room to attack them, that would be cool, but once again the only thing I’m getting out of this game is dizziness.

7. Arcade Reality

Another AR shooter that could be played in a virtual environment for the same effect as the augmented one.  They at least get points for multiple game play modes. 

6. Dodge Avenger AR Campaign

As Rouli has been chronicling, augmented reality for selling cars jumped the shark last spring.  Dodge didn’t get the memo and released this PC based campaign last month. 

5. Virtual Makeup

Games Alfresco found this scary gem of an AR video in its Not Ready for Primetime post.  We’ve seen lots of compelling try-on kiosks for other products like shirts, hats and jewelry, but turning your customers into scary clowns probably isn’t a great idea. 

4. Avon Perfume

I’ll be the first to admit I could be missing something in the translation, but didn’t anyone tell Avon that perfumes smell and augmented reality is primarily about vision?  And how many people sit around posing pictures with their perfume bottles. 

3. Twitter 360

This one is more about timing and scope than anything.  The Twitter 360 app received much press including this spot on the Augmented Planet, but that same week, Layar came out with its 3.0 version which made Twitter layers possible within its browser.  The lifespan of these narrowly focused apps are going to become shorter and shorter as the reality browsers and big name companies like Google get into the game.

2. Best Buy Campaign

I could have picked from any number of paper marker based augmented reality campaigns, there were a ton of them this year, but I chose Best Buy from last spring as the unlucky example. 

1. Always Feminine Hygiene Ad

An epic fail for so many reasons.  Besides being a typical paper-based marker campaign, the use of augmented reality had no tie-in with the feminine hygiene product.  The usage was so bad I had to rant about it in July. 

There we have it, ten of the worst uses of augmented reality in 2009.  While augmented reality is on the rise and many applications are impressive uses of the technology, we still have quite a few stinkers in the bunch.  Usually the culprit is misunderstanding of the technology or rushing it to the public without deciding if its actually fixing anything.  Blake Collins from OneZeroThrice expanded on this trend in his post about Who is, and Who Isn’t Augmented Reality

And because I’m a nice guy, if you made it to my 10 worst list or you want to stay off of it for next year, I’m offering up my post about the 10 Things Your AR App Must Have to Succeed to help you mend your errant ways.  I wrote it in anticipation of the over-hyped iPhone 3.1 OS, but it can be applied to any usage of the technology.  While its certain there are misguided plans hatching at corporate conference rooms all over the world right now that will make us groan and roll our eyes at their attempts at augmented reality, I’m buoyed by the knowledge that it only takes a few proper applications to change the world.


Thomas K. Carpenter

Thomas K. Carpenter is a full time contemporary fantasy author with over 50 independently published titles. His bestselling, multi-series universe, The Hundred Halls, has over 25 books and counting. His stories focus on fantastic families, magical academies, and epic adventures.

  • Actually I like Arcade Reality, and if I remember correctly, on its palm version it actually has some image processing. Firefighter 360, on the other hand, gives AR a bad reputation (it’s not even a fun game!)

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