Local Search is a Crowded Space

When one first thinks about augmented reality, she doesn't necessarily thinks about looking at black and white markers through a web camera. Augmented reality should augment our reality, and a natural useis having a mobile city guide; Point your AR device at a building, a monument, a shop or a restaurant, and get instant information about it.
A decent implementation only requires a GPS and a digital compass (no tricky image recognition a la SREngine). Moreover, the payoffs from advertisements in this type of search ("local search"), can be as large as those from web search, so no wonder there are many players in that space. We all know about Mobilizy's Wikitude and Tonchidot's Sekai Camera, but there are so many more -


One of the veteran players in this area, based in San-Fransisco, but focused on the Japanese market, GeoVector has numerous location based applications. The video below shows a mesh of some of their ideas, which look a little bit less impressive in reality. An application not mentioned below is Navimon, a game where players point their cellphones at shops or buildings (guided by clues the game provides) in hopes of locating cute alien monsters. In a nutshell, it's the cutesy version of Ghostwire. More info is provided in the following CNN article.

GeoVector applications work on specific phone models. As far as I know, no version of those applications is present for the Android G1 or for Nokia's compass enabled devices. Last year, John Ellenby, GeoVector's CEO was interviewed, and had the following to say:
Thanks to GeoVector, users in Japan are now pointing their mobile phones at restaurants and getting reviews. Soon they will be pointing at billboards and going directly to the advertiser’s mobile site for shopping, and pointing at a movie poster to buy a ticket. Our system allows images, videos and sounds to be downloaded. Users can not just read about a point of interest, they have rich media experiences. (source)

Intelligent Spatial Technologies
Portland based Intelligent Spatial Technologies (iST) is developing its iPointer application for the last couple of years. Very similar to GeoVector's concept, the iPointer lets you point at a specific location and get information about it. Unlike GeoVector, iPointer is developed for Windows mobile and Java phones, so you will not have to own a state of the art, available in Japan only, phone in order to use it.

The video above is already two years old. Two weeks ago, in CTIA Wireless 2009, Chris Frank, the founder and CEO of iST, claimed that the iPointer is coming to North America within the next 12 months. The obvious question is what taking them so long. A suspecting mind may think that the iPointer is nothing more than a vaporware, but several reporters have already seen it in action, and apparently there is a working demo for the University of Maine. Let's hope they are taking their time to perfect it.

Many of us have heard about the Enkin project. It exploded last year on the internet but since then disappeared. Max Braun and Rafael Spring developed Enkin for last year's the Android Developer Challenge, providing users with a tool to find out information about what they are looking at through an Android enabled phone camera (at the time, the G1 was not announced).

As you can see, Enkin was quite similar to Wikitude, but while Wikitude was one of the winners in the challenge, Enkin failed to pass the first stage. A persistent rumor says that Google was so impressed with Enkin, that it bought it right away. In their last blog post, almost a year ago, Braun and Spring wrote:
We have been contacted by Google separately and they, too, are excited about our project.
So at this point in time there are a number of possibilities for the project's future, which we are currently exploring. At the same time, we are working on realizing our previous and recent ideas.
There is more to come!
However, as rumors go, this one seems to be wrong. At least officially, the two guys behind Enkin are not Google employees. However, they do continue to work on that project. Spring is still active in Android developers forums, and when I tried to contact them, they gave the laconic reply:
thank you for your interest. Unfortunately, we can't give out any details about the status of the project at the moment.

If you want to make sure not to miss any future announcements, please keep an eye on the blog.

The three products above are really exciting, but we are now in a waiting game. Which of the three companies will be the first to launch their product in a western market? And, when they finally do that, would they be able to compete with Wikitude's growing popularity and Sekai Camera's buzz?


Anonymous said...

Worls Surfer from GeoVector is now in the iPhone app store http://tinyurl.com/mrotva

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