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Digital or Print? AR Books Deliver the Best of Both Worlds

By blending the physical world with layers of digital information, augmented reality (AR) can give new life and relevance to analog media like books, maps, and historical documents. With accessible AR creation tools, we no longer need to debate the relative values of “print or digital” books—instead we can get to work creating new hybrid connected books that enrich the best parts print media with dynamic digital content.

Books and print media have been the nexus of information and communication across cultures and time. Often noted as the pinnacle of human technology, the Gutenberg printing press has faced waves of technologists claiming that VHS, CD-ROM, Jazz Drives, Kindles, etc. will be the end of paper books. It never happened.

Despite digital’s intense impact on the industry, even the internet couldn’t break print. Far from a threat to analog media, augmented reality and spatial computing present new opportunities to enhance books with moments of targeted, connected, interactivity.

Just as the value-added experience of premium vinyl has re-ignited the record industry, there is a similar opportunity for connected books. By combining lush materials, exquisite product design, and digital connection; the added value and user experience of vinyl has launched a profitable revival for analog records. Just this week, strong vinyl sales put The Raconteurs on top of the Billboard charts, ahead of the hottest meme Old Town Road

The success of premium vinyl comes not from any one technology, but by building connections with listeners through magical user experiences (unboxing, package design, liner notes, etc) and a thoughtful application of tech (download cards and online activations). 

It doesn’t take much to get started making your own connected AR book experiences. These fully functional concepts were designed and built on an iPad with Torch AR and used books in less than a day.  

Enrich art books with realism and scale 

Instead of trying to re-imagine the entire experience of reading. AR books should accentuate the printed content and expand it beyond the limits of a two-dimensional page. Rendering and reading text in 3D space can be problematic, but the flat photographs of 3D sculptures provide an awesome opportunity to engage these historical objects in new ways.

Even in the most elegant catalog, reproductions on the page can distort the scale and impact of great works. Until you see them in person, you never have a true sense of how small the Mona Lisa is or how big a De Kooning can be. 

When a user is ready to dive into extra content, they scan the AR book with their mobile phone and 3D versions of the ancient sculptures appear on the page, using Torch’s robust image tracking. Tapping the button next to the model expands the sculpture into the room at full scale, allowing users to experience the works with the additional context of scale and 360º views.

Add new dimension to technical annotations

Technical manuals and code books often require readers to visualize complex systems in order to plan their code, but flat illustrations confound, rather than clarify the examples. AR connected books can expand these ideas into time and space, giving a new perspective on complex ideas.  

For this example, a text on WebGL, a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D graphics on web browsers, is annotated with 3D versions of the illustrations and graphs it covers, in actual 3D space. Makes sense, right? 

Seeing complex ideas, like the X,Y, and Z axis of a graph in 3D space affords readers an interactive, 1-1 understanding of these concepts without relying on complex metaphors and workflow illustrations.

Feeling inspired? Make your own AR book today

We’re loving exploring the possibilities of enhanced augmented reality books. By selectively targeting key content with enhanced digital layers, AR books can unlock new ways to engage with users and give them deeper experiences with print media—new and old. 

While not shown here, AR can also connect physical books with related digital content—anything from links to additional titles, invites to author events, videos, and real-time content updates like code standards and cover art. From art books to code manuals and maps to architectural diagrams, the opportunities to combine analog and digital information seem endless. 

What kinds of connected books will you make? What digital information would enhance your analog reading experience?

Download Torch today to get started.