For a long time, cell phones eked out the existence of a proverbial ugly duckling: small, gray and emitting some nerve-wracking blare from time to time. While they had managed to fulfill the compelling promise of mobile communication, they had been trying hard to catch up with what the great and the graceful of the digital animal kingdom had already been flaunting for quite a while.
It’s not just with the arrival of the new smartphone generation that cell phones not only have significantly spruced up their feathers, molting from once bleeping pocket-size alarm clocks through polyphonically tootling Game Boy aspirants to downright mini-PCs with crisp CD-quality stereo sound: Henceforth, thanks to their special combination of capabilities, they might graduate from the former me-too wannabes to trailblazers of new technological developments.
One such area, in which the new smartphone generation around the iPhone and the G1 have shown remarkable effort, is that of augmented reality — the fusion of the virtual world with the sensual perception or immediate reproduction of the real world. For instance, according to Wikipedia, the Wikitude AR Travel Guide released for the G1 in October 2008 was the very first end-user augmented reality application ever to hit the markets. The open source infrastructure of the Android operating system seems to keep its promise. It’s a very simple form of augmented reality provided here, which projects plain text information two-dimensionally into the G1’s camera view on the real, three-dimensional environment — but none the less! For this, Wikitude accesses certain data on Wikipedia, which is assigned to GPS coordinates. Tonchidot’s iPhone application Sekai Camera takes a similar though audio-visually more elaborate approach, complementing the GPS-based data base access with local server communication (probably via RFID-support).
Also, indicatively strong was the presence of augmented reality at Nokias Mobile Games Innovation Challenge in October last year as well as early this year at the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA). Nokia awarded Swedish developers A Different Game with the first prize of €40,000 plus contract for their augmented reality adventure game Ghostwire on Nokia’s N-Gage, in which the player will be able to get into contact with the deceased, who’ll be blended semi-transparently with the camera image. Ghostwire also received two nominations for the IMGA.
Kweekies: augmented reality for the smartphone (simply click on the play button)
Among the nominations at both events, there also was Kweekies by French developer int13, which is planned for release on the iPhone among others and breeds Augmented Environment’s study ARf into a cutely designed mongrel of Pokémon and Tamagotchi. The game revolves around a “magic sheet” that, brought into the scope of the cell phone camera, builds an Einstein-Rosen Bridge into a parallel universe, through which the virtual critter gains entrance to our dimension. Once the sheet moves out of the field of view, the magic disappears though. That’s because on the front of the sheet there’s a black and white mosaic pattern, which serves as a measuring mark for the correct spatial positioning of the 3D-creatures and is somewhat reminiscent of QR-Codes in its appearance. Considering this similarity, I regard it as just the next logic step that QR-Codes in public space soon might not only allow to be scanned via cell phone for their informational content, but also — possibly in conjunction with applications akin to Sekai Camera — unveil animated, three-dimensional graphical objects correctly positioned within the camera image on top of that! The QR-Code could simply contain the URL under which the 3D-object is stored on the server.