This app can mix music while you mix drinks, and proves augmented reality can be fun

Augmented reality is one of those buzz phrases which was very popular several years ago, when it was usually attached to relatively worthless apps and games, which either simulated flying saucers attacking earth or vague attempts to overlay helpful information in a browser window. The intentions were good, but the tech just wasn’t there to make them anything other than novelties that rarely worked as described.

So what has changed? Recently, we spent some time at Somo Global, a mobile marketing firm in London, where we saw how augmented reality has advanced. Somo helps companies understand how mobile can enhance their business, but rather than producing dreary old apps we, as consumers, will never want to use, they’re geeks at heart, and like nothing more than fiddling around with the latest tech while developing cool apps.

AR Mixer is the best excuse for drinking yet

On arrival at Somo’s London offices, located moments away from the bustle of Piccadilly Circus, I was ushered into the “lab.” However, it wasn’t staffed by men in white coats, but stuffed with tablets, smartphones, consoles, and wearable tech. My host was Product Innovation Manager Naji El-Arifi, who was about to convince me augmented reality was something to get excited about again.

AR Mixer TabletThe app he showed me, which Somo calls AR Mixer, was proof that augmented reality can be technically impressive, exciting, and best of all, fun.

Picture this scenario: You’re having a party and want to play around with the music, so you line up a selection of bottles, some containing spirits and others soft drink mixers. You pull out your tablet or phone, and focus the camera on the bottles.

That’s when the music starts. Thanks to image recognition, Somo’s idea is to have each spirit bottle play a vocal track, while each mixer adds a beat, but the literal twist is being able to manipulate each track by turning the bottle or can around in front of the camera. A spinning record appears to show which one is playing, and by moving the camera closer or further away, the volume can be raised and lowered.

There’s no practical reason why you’d need this – until it gets accurate enough to make music using real world objects – but it’s a really fun tech demo and a sign of things to come.

AR Mixer worked seamlessly and the reaction time was lightning fast, from it recognizing the bottle to the adjustment of the audio as the bottle was twisted. Somo plans for the app to recognize 10 different drinks, but 20 is achievable in the near future.

Drink companies will love this as a way to sell booze, but AR Mixer has considerable potential in the real world. How about linking it up to Spotify, so you can assign the tracks your bottles play? Maybe an AR app can detect when a party is dying down and change the music to liven things up. Even more intriguingly, once Google opens up the software development kit for Glass, you may not even need to hold a tablet or phone to play at being a DJ. All possible in the future, according to Somo.

Augmented reality that works

Watching how AR Mixer recognized multiple objects,then reacted differently depending on their orientation, showed how far augmented reality apps have come, distancing themselves from the clunky gimmicks with which the tech has been associated in the past. The real sci-fi magic will happen when this kind of seamless augmented reality turns up as an app for Google Glass, or a similar device, bridging the gap between then and virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift.

For now, AR Mixer is a work in progress, and while it’s most likely to end up in the hands of a creative marketing team, there’s still hope it’ll come out as a standalone app you can use at your next party.

Mobile

Midrange phones can’t do A.I., but MediaTek’s P90 chip aims to change that

MediaTek has announced the Helio P90 mobile processor, which it says will bring the best A.I. features we see on high-end smartphones, to the mid-range. We spoke to the company about the chip.
Smart Home

With a simple command, Alexa can arm all your security devices

Alexa customers can query status plus arm or disarm home security systems several companies. New Alexa Guard skills set your home to away mode, send alerts when alarms or sensors go off, and contact home security monitoring services.
Mobile

Apple's iOS 12.1.1 makes it easier to switch cameras in FaceTime

After months of betas, the final version of iOS 12 is here to download. The latest OS comes along with tons of new capabilities, from grouped notifications to Siri Shortcuts. Here are all the features you'll find in iOS 12.
Product Review

The iPad Pro is the best tablet ever. But don't sell your laptop just yet

Apple has unveiled a big redesign for the iPad Pro, slimming down the bezels, adding Face ID, and the ability to attach and charge the Apple Pencil. All of this comes at a high cost however, as the iPad Pro starts at $799.
Mobile

Apple is spending $1 billion to hire up to 15,000 new employees in Austin

Apple has announced a series of expansions across the U.S. -- including a massive expansion to the company's Austin campus that will see it spending $1 billion to accommodate for up to 15,000 new employees.
Outdoors

Google Maps makes it easier than ever to find a Lime bike or scooter

Google Maps has added a new feature that helps you find a Lime bike or scooter in just a few taps. The feature currently works in 11 U.S. cities served by Lime, with more coming next year.
Mobile

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.
Mobile

Quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed

Looking for a few accoutrements to make your smartphone even better? If you, or someone you know, is a sucker for accessories, you'll want to check out our collection of quirky smartphone accessories you never knew you needed.
Mobile

Ditch your smartphone for a year and win $100k from Vitaminwater

Vitaminwater is willing to part with $100,000 if you're willing to part with your smartphone partner for a year. Could you last for a year armed with only a 1996-era phone? Here's your chance to find out.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Deals

Walmart drops prices on Apple Watches and other fitness trackers

Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and wearable heart rate monitors from Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Garmin are popular gifts. Wearables are smarter and more capable than in earlier years. We found the best wearables deals on Walmart.
Wearables

The best Wear OS watches

There are a ton of different Wear OS watches out there, but which one's right for you? No matter what you're looking for from a smartwatch, here are the best Wear OS watches out there.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.