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As August was coming to a close last week, I realized that I had only taken two days off work all summer. Without much of a plan, I booked a quick getaway to Toronto and decided to visit the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) with my kids. I had heard from some colleagues that the exhibit "Ultimate Dinosaurs, Giants from Gondwana" featured iPads with augmented reality (AR) - and that it was well worth checking out. Given that I spend a lot of time looking at how mobile enterprise applications are designed, and "what's next" in enterprise mobility, I was excited to see these innovative technologies at work.
Before heading out to the museum I had already downloaded the ROM Ultimate Dinosaurs app from the App Store on both my iPhone and iPad. We were geared up and ready to go. We headed out (two adults and four kids in tow), and as soon as we came up from the depths of the subway, we were greeted by two giant floor decals with thick black frames indicating that they were the AR images. I excitedly cracked out my iPad, and saw a Dino spring up on my screen roaring and moving around - it was cool! I proceeded to line up the kids up for a great photo. It was an awesome start to the experience. The app worked perfectly, the visual of the dinosaur was great and the picture was a nice effect (see photo with the dino).
We quickly got our passes and headed into the exhibit. My oldest son (who tells me his "passion is reading") will literally read every sign in the exhibit, while my second refuses to read anything and just looks at the dinosaur bones and pictures. This exhibit featured all displays on iPads, which was an awesome and engaging way to explore and learn. Dozens of iPads were featured throughout the exhibit, totally changing the engagement level at every stop. This was especially true for my middle son who wouldn't have looked at anything if it wasn't on an iPad. It was probably the best museum experience I've ever had with him.
The experience of the augmented reality dinosaurs inside the exhibit was both a great experience and a negative experience - depending on how tall you were. At nearly 6 feet, the experience was perfect for me. At each station, the Dinos roared to life. The problem came when my 5 year old daughter and nephew wanted to take a look. I had to lower the iPad to show them the screen, and due to the angle, I lost the capture of the AR image and the dino went extinct. As an exhibit created for both kids and adults to enjoy, it was immediately clear that the exhibit was only tested by adults. Unfortunately, this ensured a negative user experience for kids. I asked my oldest son what he thought of the dinos on my iPad and he replied "The iPad app would have been cool if I could see it."
So, how does this trip to the museum apply to mobile business apps? In truth, I was expecting to write this blog about the possibilities for augmented reality in business apps, but instead i have to make my observations on mobile user experiences in general.
  1. Mobile doesn't need a training manual. As we become a more mobile society, we expect to engage via our mobile devices. The exhibit did an awsesome job of that. I observed dozens of adults and children interacting with the ipads and virtually all of them automatically knew how to use it without instruction.
  2. Consider your end users (all of them!) Users are the reason that mobile applications are launched in the first place. Taking into consideration their real needs can make a tremendous difference to the success of a mobile app. In the dinosaur example above, whoever built the app knew exactly what kids would love to see - not just the skeleton of a dinosaur, but what it might have looked like roaming the earth. However, whoever placed the signs in the exhibit completely missed the boat.
  3. User testing is critical. Get involved in all stages of the use case to obtain the complete picture. Understand who will be using your app and how they are interacting with it. Test your actual users, not just a random 6 foot tall museum employees (or tech-savvy IT staff). In this museum scenario, simply changing the angle of the sign would have completely changed the experience and made it flawless.
  4. Augmented reality is cool and has millions of applications in business. Augmented reality will be a big thing for business over the next couple of years. It will change the way we engage with things and people. We'll be able to capture attention with much more relevant and engaging content that is enriched, individually relevant and contextual. Imagine instructional videos that pop up when a phone is placed over a machine in a factory or restaurant ratings and table availability that pop up when you take a photo in Times Square.
It is abundantly clear that the opportunities for mobile are endless. A day like the one at the museum made me see opportunities everywhere I go. For example, When I left the exhibit and headed to the train station I wish I could have skipped the 100 person long kiosk line up (where I had to make 6 separate single ticket purchases!). I hope in the future I'll see an iPhone ticketing app with augmented reality that leads me directly to my track.
As you are considering mobile for your employees and customers, I encourage you to take these lessons into consideration. Hopefully your apps will live long and prosperous lives, and not go extinct before their time.