Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Augmented Reality

I was watching a broadcast of CNET’s BOL this moment on my way to work and one piece of news with a video clip of a new iPhone app just caught my eyes. It is called ‘Word Len’. It is an app that provides ‘instant’ visual translation of image of foreign language to English. Basically, user holds the iPhone/iPod Touch with the app on and points that to any image with foreign language (Spanish in the video clip that I saw), and you will see the Spanish words on the sign to become English almost instantly, with matching fonts and size. It is just a fascinating app. Based on what I read in news; it is supporting Spanish to English so far. I’m pretty sure it will be expanded to other languages soon.
This app simply brings the technology of Augmented Reality into a practical usage. Unlike the previous trivial or more entertaining arena, this app offers users a glimpse of what this technology can do. After seeing this, few light bulbs just pop up in my head…

Based on what I’ve seen in recent months, I can see that augmented reality with few other technologies are gonna merged or crossed with each other in near future, and they will produce some amazing user experience and business opportunities in the coming years down the road. What I’m saying are:

1. Visual search – Google lets users to take pictures of certain image and offer search results that way. E.g. you take a picture of the Statue of Liberty instead of typing ‘Statue of Liberty’, Google can search all information related to Statue of Liberty.
2. Audio text input and Audio search – We can speak words in various languages into the Google search on our mobile phone, words will be put into text for search. While another app (I forget the name) let users to hymn few verses of a song to search the name of the song. I don’t see any stoppage from some people building a comprehensive audio library of all sorts of sound (besides music) which can be used to tie in with visual image as well.

3. Facebook Voice – we can chat with our friends on Facebook.

Just with all these 3 technology plus the augmented reality technology, guess what can be come up? These are my thoughts so far:

Facebook can record our voice to build up our audio profiles, and use our voice as part of our identity. Imagine we spoke to our friends about planning a trip to France, do you think Facebook with its tie-in vendors would be able to come up with target ads to us?

On the one hand, Google has a vast image and text library of search results. On the other hand, Google already has the biggest video clip library in the world of YouTube. On top of them, Google has Google Earth and GPS access. Imagine if they somehow also has access to the audio library that I mentioned above as well, and tie all these together with augmented reality technology. Google search will become omnipotent for sure! For examples…

When you type ‘dolphin’ or point your phone to a dolphin in Sea World, Google search in future may produce images, sounds, and clips of YouTube that feature the type of dolphin your are pointing at.

If you are pointing your phone to a stranger on the street at random, you may get instant information about that person. What school he went to, what music he likes to listen to, who are his friends, what clips he has posted on Google or Facebook. What he bought for his girlfriend’s last birthday, etc. On top of that, if we are not talking about a phone, instead that technology is put on a pair of sunglass. You know what I see? We will become ‘Terminators’! Remember the movie, when Arnold looks at any image through his robotic eyes? Instant data of the image is popping on the left and right in his vision. We may someday be able to do that as well!

Commercially, the opportunity is endless. We saw a woman wearing a purple blouse on the street, we will know what fabric it was made of, where we can buy that in the closest proximity, what would their prices in various stores, who is the designer of the blouse, would that blouse require dry clean or machine wash, etc. Furthermore, I can see that RFID and NFC can be tied in as well in product placement and advertising.

Also, when we are reading a magazine on iPad, the ads that will show to us will be personalized as it will know who is reading the magazine and what we are interested in, then show ads accordingly. I’m not saying it is based on who login a certain account on iPad. I’m saying who is ‘holding’ the damn template! The cameras can read the face of the reader, at the same time what are in front of the reader. It can detect the voice of the reader if he/she speaks, and the sound/noise of the surrounding. It will know where the reader is and what stores are closed by based on GPS. All these are ‘Ads’ opportunities!

Are all of these both amazing and scary? I can further imagine along this line that our world will become bipolar from the standpoint of technology. We will become those who are either fully connected to the information world or opt out completely.

For the former, our privacy will be compromised. Namely, our personal profile will be built, maintained, and exploited. But, we can enjoy all the convenience that technology would be able to offer.

For the latter, we will be out of the loop, becoming some kind of tech nomad, outcast of the tech world, being left out of the information world.

Certainly, there will be some people who will try to maneuver between those two worlds – the hackers!

Am I thinking too much? I guess my imagination is running on high gear a little too much. Anyway, just wanna share some thoughts of mine. That’s all.

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