Would you rather spend $60,000 adding an app to the 100,000 plus in the Apple App Store or would you rather spend a more modest sum creating a branded “augmented reality world” on Nokia Point & Find?
That is the question posed by Philipp Schloter, general manager of Nokia Point & Find and former CEO of pattern recognition start-up Pixto, which was acquired by Nokia in 2007. Unsurprisingly, he would advise you to choose the latter. Although Point & Find is still in beta, Nokia says it is working with about a dozen companies to develop commercial augmented reality worlds and is running an extensive pilot in the English town of Colchester together with outdoor advertising specialist JCDecaux.
How does it work?
Here is the experience from the consumer’s perspective: A person with a Nokia smartphone (there are almost 30 compatible Nokia models available now) can download the Nokia Point & Find app and then download a world, together with its database of tags, on to their handset.
If they then point their handset at an object, such as a poster, a shop, a business card or even a branded coffee cup, the Point & Find software will compare the image in the view finder with those in the databases of the worlds resident on the device. If it finds a match, web links preinstalled by the world owner will pop up on the screen of the phone. The beauty of this approach is that the device doesn’t have to connect to the network to determine whether an object has been tagged.
The links might take the user to a web site, play a movie trailer, unveil an advert, launch a game or flag whatever the brand owner wants to promote, or they could prepare a SMS or email that would enable the user to enter a competition. In a world dedicated to a music festival, for example, an image of a bar might generate a link to details of which bands are playing at that venue and another link through which you can buy tickets online.
In a demo provided by Nokia, the software sometimes recognized the object within a second or two, immediately delivering the links. In other cases, the demonstrator had to adjust the angle a couple of times before the links popped up. If the user didn’t know an object had been tagged, they might not go to this trouble, so Nokia advises world owners to tag each object several times, by taking photos from several different angles, so as to increase the chances of the image recognition software immediately finding a match.
Philipp Schloter says the software doesn’t just use image-recognition techniques to try and figure out what the user is looking at – it can also use information provided by the device’s GPS chip and compass, as well as other contextual data, such as the time of day. That makes sense, with the caveat that the more demands you make of the handset hardware, the more you drain the battery.
What’s the business model?
From a brand’s perspective, Nokia is trying to make publishing worlds as painless as possible, with no coding required and Nokia able to host all the relevant links. Philipp Schloter says Nokia could charge the publisher a small fee for this service or it could charge a small sum each time a user clicks on a link or a combination of the two.
According to Nokia, dozens of worlds have already been created, one of which is its own city guides. The content in these guides is being built up primarily through crowd sourcing with users tagging buildings and places and providing links. This is a free service, but the content gets reviewed by Nokia before it is published.
Philipp Schloter sees these guides mainly being used in a spontaneous way, primarily to satisfy people’s curiosity, rather than for local search. “Is it about finding a local restaurant?” he says. “It is more about whether the restaurant in front of you is a good place.”
Augmented Reality Glasses?
If augmented reality takes off in the way that it should, there may be demand for dedicated devices, such as a pair of connected glasses, which would help resolve the battery life issue. Philipp Scholter sees scope for both augmented reality-enabled smartphones and dedicated devices. “We are in the first generation at the moment,” he says “Both things will co-exist.”
Another big question for Nokia is whether to limit the Point & Find app to its own devices or also make it available on Android, for example. Assuming its software can trump Google Goggles (the web giant’s rival app) in some areas, Nokia should surely target Android and other platforms to ensure its worlds are as widely explored as possible.