As the digital and physical worlds increasingly blend together, new opportunities to improve end-user experiences are emerging. Theorist Joe Pine and management advisor Kim Korn outline an array of hybrid physical/virtual forms that are transforming and enriching the end-user experience in their book Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier (Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Francisco: 2011).
Pine and Korn describe eight different combinations of virtuality and reality, which are illustrated by compelling case study examples.
For instance, the authors describe augmented reality as "using digital substances to enhance the real world," or adding virtual elements to real life content and environments. They cite examples such as GPS; Layar; the VeinViewer from Christie Medical Innovations, which overlays an image of the patientís vein (taken via infrared light) on his/her skin; and LeapFrogís educational "Tag Reading System," which allows "children to touch words on tag-enabled books with a special digital reader."
In the short term, Pine and Korn believe augmented reality (of all the new digital technologies mentioned in their book) offers the "most promise because it utilizes the smartphones people already carry around with them."
The authors view alternate reality as "alternate versions of the real world" and alternate reality games (ARGs) as appropriating "virtual experiences and playing them out in the real world." They stress that alternative reality is broader than simply alternate reality games, encompassing such forms as "pervasive games, fantasy sports, GPS games, and geocaching."
The authors note that alternate reality games and other games have promise and transformational powers in such non-entertainment areas as business, education, and public policy. Pine envisions "great possibilities" for the application of "casual alternate reality games" in business and other arenas. He believes that alternate reality (of all the digital technologies mentioned in his book) has great promise "over the long term" because of its ability to "fuse real and virtual experiences in unique and interesting ways."
Virtuality involves "representations" that users believe to be real, according to the book. Typical virtuality forms include multi-player role-playing online games, virtual worlds, and traditional video games. Virtuality creates "a feeling of immersion, a sense of place, narrative, and agency," the authors say.
The authors view mirrored virtuality as the "absorption of the real world in the virtual," and as "a virtual expression of reality that unfolds as it actually happens or as close to real time as possible." Examples of mirrored virtuality include MLB Gameday, which the authors describe as a "virtual stadium allowing users to keep track of box scores in real time"; Google Earth; and "any sort of dashboard, such as TweetDeck."
Warped reality refers to "time shifting" that immerses people physically in different historical contexts and digital forms simulating reality in different time periods. Examples of warped reality include "civil war reenactments," as well as "live action role-playing games," according to the authors.
Overall, Pine and Korn believe discovery, immersion, and collaboration with consumers to be more effective tools in the marketing of hybrid real/virtual customer interfaces. Gestural interfaces will become the primary means of interacting in virtual worlds, in the authors' view.
In conclusion, Infinite Possibility illuminates the potential of hybrid real/virtual experiences and charts a path for more fully assessing and exploiting these possibilities. It will be interesting to see how it plays out -- in "reality" as well as "virtuality."
— Michael Mascioni is a market research consultant in digital media.