SI Embraces Augmented Reality in a Big Way

In a stunning example of the use of technology in a print publication, Sport’s Illustrated is unveiling its first augmented reality (AR) issue.

“Sports Illustrated is trying to breach the gap between paper and digital with its first interactive issue, which enables users to unlock digital content by scanning selected images and pages in the magazine,” writes Weronika Jurkiewicz in PSKF.

“The issue’s cover story Capturing Everest features amputee Jeff Glasbrenner’s and cancer survivor Lisa Thompson’s incredible expedition. The story is accompanied by a four episode VR experience which further illustrates their journey,” Jurkiewicz continues.

Many publishers and brands are exploring augmented reality as an effective way to extend the reading experience. Unlike virtual reality (VR), AR blends easily with real life. Think Ikea’s iconic AR catalog, or Elle’s AR issue last fall. In this case, the print content leads fluidly to video content that strengthens the entire experience, with AR content provided by AOL’s RYOT Lab, with some technical help from Verizon Labs.

“This is the first large-scale test of [this technology],” RYOT co-founder and CEO Bryn Mooser said in an interview with Variety. “It can really bridge the divide between print and digital.” “This is not putting our work in a Hololens, but in people’s phone,” he added.

Advertisers have been making hay with AR for several years now. Mercedes is one of the prime examples of a brand that is owning it, with their cutting edge (for 2011) print ad that directed readers to browse to a video then place their smartphones over the rear view mirror in the ad to view it.

Since then, as both smartphone usage has surged and AR technology has advanced, the publishing world has been slowly understanding how to create a cohesive print-to-AR experience. Granted, the industry has been dealing with lots of other issues in the meantime, so the slowish uptake of this technology is understandable.

The good news is that the brands that are delving into this seem to be doing so with the reader experience at front and center, like SI. This, like all innovations in publishing, is a key barometer of their ultimate success.