PopSci's Augmented Reality Check: A Q&A With Editorial Director Mark Jannot
INBOX: You experimented with it on your July cover. What can you tell us about that experience?
JANNOT: Our July "Future of Energy" cover was the first-ever augmented-reality magazine cover. Someone in our marketing department had seen augmented reality demonstrated nearly a year earlier, and we'd been looking for a way to use it in the magazine ever since. (At Popular Science, we editors of course pride ourselves on being far out ahead of the curve on new technology and innovation—so I think it was a bit of a blow to editorial pride when one of my senior editors stumbled upon a video demonstration of the technology and e-mailed it around, getting an enthusiastic, awestruck reaction, only to discover that the marketing department had discovered it several months earlier.)
Because it was a marketing department initiative, and because it's not cheap to implement an augmented-reality feature, the obvious intention was to pitch it to an advertiser as a way to create a unique, high-impact unit. The perfect opportunity to do that, in way that would appeal to our readership on a genuine level, emerged in the Future of Energy issue. The cover image that my Creative Director, Sam Syed, developed with our regular cover illustrator, Nick Kaloterakis, was a photo-real depiction of a phalanx of mildly futuristic-looking wind turbines stretching across San Francisco Bay. Someone on the sales side saw that and remembered that GE had developed an augmented-reality piece in which a 3-dimensional turbine pops off of a 2-dimensional page (they'd debuted it in a Super Bowl ad). We made the connection with GE, sold them on the first-ever opportunity to have their unit popping off the magazine's cover, and repurposed the animation they'd already done to make it work in this context. One of my concerns was that every augmented-reality animation I'd seen required a big high-contrast black-and-white image to serve as the trigger. But we found a company called Metaio that had pioneered a way to use any image as the trigger—so we didn't have to change our cover art or junk it up in any way. The whole thing is very cool—once the turbine pops off the cover, you can even make the blades spin faster by blowing into the microphone on your computer. (Check it out for yourself at http://popsci.com/imagination.)
INBOX: What sort of response did you receive from your readership?
JANNOT: The readers absolutely loved it, as I anticipated they would. Our mission statement is "Popular Science is the ultimate guide to what's new and what's next. We deliver the future now." And that's really what our readers come to the magazine for—to see a first glimpse at dazzling new scientific breakthroughs and technologies. So it's squarely in the spirit of the magazine's mission to be the first to deliver this experience to our readers. Nearly 100,000 people went to the Web site and activated the 3-D augmented reality cover, and the comments we received were overwhelmingly favorable.