We already showed you the dark side of augmented reality in the form of a virtual girlfriend from Japan, but now the same country has given us something a lot less creepy that could be the future of virtual pop stars everywhere.
Produced by Niigata-based studio Gugenka, HoloModels gives iPhone and iPad users an AR character that can be posed and placed in a nearly infinite number of environments. The anime-style character is named Megu Shinonome, and she follows the growing trend in Japan of virtual idols like Hatsune Miku capturing real and very passionate fan bases.
In the case of Megu, a free iOS app, which was launched on Feb. 23, 2018, and developed using ARKit, must first be installed to access the model. (An Android version is also in the works.) The download takes a bit longer than the average app load time since it's over 200 MB, but it's worth the wait.
Once downloaded, the app, which is available in the iOS App Store for US users, but is presented in Japanese, lets you remove Megu from her virtual product box. (If you don't speak Japanese, no worries, the directions and interface are mostly intuitive if you spend enough time experimenting with the app.)
After that, you can begin selecting the modification tools surrounding Megu, which are represented by spray cans. Each can must be picked up individually and directed at Megu's figure to control things like her size (she can be a small as an ant or human-sized).
You can also use the spray cans to begin modifying her facial expressions (all the way down to an eyebrow or the direction of her gaze) as well as her body positions (including hands and legs).
The level of control is impressive. If you've ever experimented with desktop 3D character rendering software and the level of pose control those tools give you, then you have a general idea of how specific you can get with Megu.
That means that, along with a batch of add-on items for Megu to hold and interact with, you can get incredibly specific with her poses and then snap a photo of Megu in your home, school, park, etc.
Although the app studio's parent company (CS-Reporters Inc.) is probably hoping this app will propel Megu into idol territory (she already has her own Twitter account), what this really looks like to me is the first AR Barbie doll.
Whether users become infatuated with Megu specifically will be up to Gugenka's promotional efforts, but what this app is showing us is that the era of playing with real dolls may be about to shift into the virtual, which could have major implications for the toy business.
Instead of a Barbie doll that requires a trip to a real store to add new clothing, a car, or perhaps a Ken doll companion, all that can be accomplished via software updates with Megu. And every change and update can be captured natively via a photo in the app and shared on social media.
The launch of this app has been fairly quiet in terms of promotion, but after playing around with Megu for a bit, this feels like a huge turn that could push every single toy maker into AR much faster than anyone had anticipated.