Quartz makes the news with augmented reality


Quartz AR header ()


AR is not a new concept. As early as 1901, US author L. Frank Baum, wrote about the idea of an electronic display/spectacles that overlay data onto real life. With the advent of smartphones, the technology has captivated the publishing industry, and we’ve covered it many times here on the FIPP website from Blippar’s use of AR technology to bring print to life, to the global Pokemon GO craze

With such a deep legacy particularly more recently within the media industry itself, it seems strange in hindsight that it has taken this long for a major news outlet to introduce an element of augmented reality. We asked John Keef, product manager for Quartz, what the ‘Eureka’ moment was: 

“The Eureka moment, to be honest, was when Apple made it significantly easier for developers to use AR,” said Keef. “It still takes a bit of work to obtain 3D models of news objects and prepare them for viewing, but our developers added the ability to display those objects in AR relatively quickly.” 

So it was technology, rather than product development, that sparked this leap forward in Quartz’s coverage, highlighting again the growing symbiosis between new technology opportunities and content outputs within the modern media industry. 

The innovative iPhone app has received these capabilities alongside an update to iOS 11. The full AR experience will work on iPhones 6S or newer, while older iPhones will display the 3D objects, just not right there in the room with you. It allows the editorial team to illustrate stories with 3D objects, such as one pf the publication’s first AR pieces on the Cassini spacecraft, which crashed into Saturn last week after making several important discoveries over the past 20 years. As this news item appears in the app, users can click on feature to view the spacecraft itself in augment reality. With some help from the iPhone’s camera, the NASA model appears before you, providing a better sense of what Cassini looks like—even in actual size, if you want.  

In more recent years, news organisations have been experimenting with virtual reality (VR), as opposed to AR, which has raised a growing debate about the validity of the one technology versus the other. We asked John if AR was potentially a simpler, more relevant technology to apply to real-world news reporting, than attempting to create whole new VR environments from scratch. 

“You hit on it. There are folks making beautiful immersive experiences with virtual reality and 360-degree video. But for those projects, creators must construct the entire world around you. With AR, we start with the existing world around you, and then add objects you might not otherwise be able to view or experience. Our app is free do download, and we do display custom-built advertisements. Because we build the ads at Quartz, the opportunities are wide open. We’re offering the same AR capability to advertisers through the ad units in the app.” 

It’s an interesting update to what it already a hugely innovative news app, which delivers stories in a modern, conversational, messaging format as opposed to more traditional content platforms. As the scrolling and inexpressive timelines of social networks like Twitter increasingly become people’s go-to source for breaking news, innovations such as Quartz’ augmented reality capabilities look set to bring elements of engagement and understanding back to current events. 

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