Mobile Augmented Reality browsers

Enkin was an entrant in the first Android developer competition and garnered a lot of media attention back then. Unfortunately it didn’t make the cut, subsequently never to be heard of again. However, the last post on their weblog mentions that they’ve been approached by Google, leading to some interesting speculation.

Enkin from Enkin on Vimeo.

Aside from Enkin, several other applications have picked up the concept. One of them, Wikitude, even made it into the Android Developer Competition Top 50 (making the whole Enkin story even more interesting). Wikitude is available on the Android market, but for some completely inexplicable reason lacks any kind of decent and presentable promo video – the one they have on their website doesn’t even show their service in action. If they had a promo video comparable in quality to Layar’s, they might have stolen their press.

Layar recently made a lot of headlines. Their client looks more polished than Wikitude and their demo video is a lot better in selling the general concept. It seems their client is currently only available for Android phones on the Android market in the Netherlands.

Both Wikitude and Layar have announced developer APIs (in closed beta at the moment). All things considered there seems to be a lot of overlap in concept and ambition between both applications.

Acrossair recently made headlines with its Nearest Tube and Nearest Subway applications. According to a LA Times blog post, these will find their way onto the app store once iPhone OS 3.1 arrives:

Finally there’s nru by lastminute.com, available on both iPhone (3GS) and Android. It’s probably the first Augmented Reality browser on the iPhone app store, supposedly in large part due to the fact that it doesn’t overlay it’s information display on a live camera view, which would require the use of private iPhone APIs (though this limitation will hopefully be lifted once iPhone OS 3.1 arrives). Unfortunately i couldn’t find the application on the Austrian Android market and the iPhone version isn’t fully functional on my iPhone 3G, but their demo video looks decent:

John Gruber’s take on the app store rejection of Google Voice:

Google Voice is a mobile phone service provided by the maker of one of the biggest competitors to the iPhone OS. What if Google Voice were instead Microsoft Voice? And what if Windows Mobile were as modern and competitive as Android? Would you be as surprised then that Apple is discouraging iPhone owners from using the service? Just saying.

Except that Google Voice isn’t competing with the platform but building on top of it. Following Gruber’s logic would imply that Apple should restrict their mail client from working with Gmail, Exchange, &c because they compete with their MobileMe service. Except that Apple doesn’t even have a product competing with Google Voice. Actually it’s probably more like saying Apple should try to stop Microsoft from distributing Office for Mac because Microsoft also makes operating systems and therefore competes with Apple. Or something. Just saying.

Bonus link: if you don’t know what Google Voice is (as i did until very recently) and why you’d want it (or not), lifehacker has a nice overview. I’m not holding my breath for this launching in Austria any time soon, though.

A few days ago, Google Latitude for iPhone made headlines with this little snippet from their announcement.

We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles.

Lots of complaining in the comments how the user experience and utility of Google Latitude suffers because it’s just a web app. Of course the real problem is that background processes are prohibited on the iPhone and therefore even a dedicated app couldn’t improve on the functionality of the web app. If you wanted to continually update your location you’d still be forced to leave Latitude running as the foreground app, just like in your browser. Push notifications won’t do much good for pushing data off your phone, either. In the long run i suspect that Latitude will find its way into the offficial iPhone Maps application anyway.
On the upside, though, i feel much more compelled to try the service on my iPhone instead of my Android phone because it feels like i’m actually staying in control of what get’s shared and when. Truth be told, automatic background location sharing freaks me out a little bit.

A little while back Aza Raskin suggested using vibration patterns based on a name’s constituent phonemes for identifying callers on cellphones. A few days later, there was a working implementation for Android phones by Dietrich Ayala. The app is available for download on the Android market and its source code is on GitHub.
This kind of thing confirms my believe that Android is by far the most accessible and capable platform for prototyping mobile applications at the moment. On the hardware side Android devices offer pretty much everything one could wish for and match the iPhone in most regards (except for multitouch support, unfortunately). On the software side Android gives developers the freedom to alter pretty much any aspect of the platform, right down to core components such as the phone dialer application. Furthermore, once you’re finished with your application it’s apparently a lot faster to get published on the Android market. Even though the Android market might not be competitive with the app store when it comes to commercial success, for research and prototyping Android seems a lot more tempting than the iPhone.

Android UIs

Ever since i got an HTC Magic last month for work, my interest in Android has naturally grown. It seems like Android is getting some traction with established manufacturers this year, and thanks to its openness, some of them are doing interesting things with the Android user interface.

Among them HTC with its Sense UI:

And Sony Ericsson with its Rachael UI as well:

Both seem to borrow heavily from the Palm Pre where aesthetics are concerned. It’s also interesting how a lot of activities and content is focused around your contacts, with heavy tie-ins to social networking services. Gizmodo already has an extensive review of the new HTC Hero, the first device with the new Sense UI. Their verdict: ambitious but flawed.
Later: Engadget now has an indepth review as well.

Turning fitness into a game

I enjoyed this article about Nike+ in this month’s Wired. It seems like this could be the right thing to get me started with running.
Apparently Nintendo has rolled out its own, similar system based on the Nintendo DS, albeit centered around walking a couple months back, although i hadn’t noticed it until last week when Russell Davies shared his experiences with it. More impressions at near future laboratory.

As an aside, i picked up a hardcopy of Wired for a plane trip and was once again baffled that i ended up reading it front to back, whereas i hardly bother reading their articles online. I really should subscribe.