The New York Times added augmented reality (AR) features to its mobile app to provide readers with a more immersive experience of its digital storytelling, per the newspaper's website. The news publisher this week will introduce an AR experience for the Winter Olympics, which begin on Feb. 9 in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The news publisher said AR expands its journalism by letting people experience stories beyond the edges of a mobile screen. The AR objects can be viewed from all angles at real scale, giving them a “provocative explanatory value” by letting mobile users feel as if they are physically close to works of art or a border wall, for example.
To demonstrate AR to the uninitiated, the Times took 3D pictures of an old-style newspaper vending machine that is rendered as a digital object on a mobile device’s screen. The AR features are only available for Apple’s iOS for now, and the Android version of its mobile app will have the technology in the near future. Viewers will need the latest version of iOS and an iPhone SE, an iPhone 6S or newer, a fifth-generation iPad or an iPad Pro.
The New York Times, throughout its history, has implemented new technologies such as color printing, interactive media and mobile apps to enhance its traditional text-based news reporting. AR is still in its infancy, having been popularized in 2016 with the Pokemon Go game that had players venturing through streets, parks and open fields in search of digital collectibles. Apple and Google last year released software tools to help publishers and app developers to add AR features to their mobile apps.
As circulation and ad sales continue to fall for print newspapers, the Times and other newspaper publishers are struggling to create online destinations that draw readers and advertisers. The publisher is likely viewing AR as a potential way to create the kind of deeper engagements that can boost its digital offerings. As early as 2009, the Times started investigating how to use AR technology to help with location-based journalism, such as restaurant reviews, apartment hunting and historical data, per Poynter. At that time, technologists imagined selling AR ads to real estate brokers that would let tenants or buyers see a home or apartment from the curb instead of doing a walk-through in the real world. But AR still hasn’t lived up to those early promises.
It’s too early to tell whether AR will become a key part of journalism, given the extra expense of gathering images that can be rendered as 3D digital objects seen through a mobile device’s camera. The Times has experimented with forms of virtual reality (VR) with 360-degree videos and immersive VR films for several years, but that technology hasn’t completely revolutionized the way people get their news and information from media companies.