Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Why Google Needs To Do Mobile Augmented Reality

Google Maps for mobile is growing and developing nicely. However, there has been a huge and sudden interest in the idea of augmented reality. Even more interesting is that augmented reality (or AR) is going mobile in a big way. Mobile AR is already making its way to Android devices with apps like Layar and Wikitude leading the movement. iPhone isn't too far behind with AR integration after the Yelp application easter egg. Even Nokia is working feverishly on AR projects in its labs. It seems only logical for Google to bring some form of AR to the mobile space. So let's look into why it would be important for Google to get in to the mobile AR game, how they might approach the idea, and where mobile AR could take Google into the future.

Augmented Search And Advertisements
There is a new data trend starting to make its way around the web and it has quickly become a mobile phenomenon. This new trend is mobile augmented reality. Augmented Reality is a relatively old concept, but mobile AR is a relatively new concept that is set to be the next frontier in the mobile space. Mobile AR is just recently beginning to develop because of the rapid convergence of sensors, cameras, antennas, and high resolution touch-screens into mobile devices that are more pocketable than ever before. The computational power of these mobile devices are no longer a limitation to 3D graphics and video. The only current limitation is still the massive amount of power these devices require, but power saving tech and other neat low power component solutions will eventually push this last limitation aside. There are a lot of big players in the mobile industry that are making strides in the direction of a mobile AR future. Companies like Nokia are showing that there are a lot of ways mobile AR could benefit the mobile user, and companies like Layar and Wikitude are making strides to bring mobile AR to the world. It would seem like an excellent idea for Google to get in on the mobile AR scene soon and in a very big way. Google would immediately benefit from mobile AR through local search and advertisements, while people the world over would gain from having a rich platform for layering the web onto the real world in real-time. However, Google can't wait for too long. It's only a matter of time before the likes of Microsoft or Yahoo! realize the earning potential of mobile AR.

Google Maps Integration Vs. Separate App
So, there are numerous reasons for why Google needs to do mobile AR. The next question would be how should they approach the scene. Some might think Google would be better off adding AR functionality to Google Maps for mobile and save on unnecessary development time and cost. The inclusion of digital compass support and the tweaking of Layers and Latitude to allow personal and public tags to be shared sounds feasible for a company like Google. I would even go as far as to say Street View could potentially be enhanced greatly with user submitted images or images already online that have been geotagged. With these and other creative tools at Google's disposal, it would be to their advantage to add AR features to Google Maps for mobile.

It may also prove to be more advantageous for Google to develop a specific mobile AR application that Google Maps and other Google services could plug into. Imagine integrating not only Google Maps, but using a Google Voice layer to call a local restaurant for what the latest lunch special is, or a local news layer for staying up to date on current events in your immediate area. How about a weather layer that shows you where that storm is and where it's headed. It would also be awesome to have a translation feature that can recognize an image of text and translate it into your native language in real-time (great for that first trip to Japan). Another interesting plug-in would be for the SketchUp application. One could design an add-on to an old building and have it shown how it would look in real-time by the viewer as they walk around. I could go on forever listing the potential uses for a Google made mobile AR app, but until they actually decide to develop one, all we have are hopes and dreams of the future.

From Smartphones To Google Eyes
Which brings us to what could be the future of mobile computing as we do not yet know it. Augmented reality started on the TV and PC, is moving to mobile devices like phones and web tablets, but I have a strong feeling AR will get even closer to us through eyewear. It will likely happen first through eyeglasses and eventually make its way into contact lenses and stand alone implants. No one can predict when or where computing, Internet connectivity, and communications will end up, but if mobile AR takes off like I think it will, the web could look very interesting through our newly enhanced eyes.


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