Augmented Reality: Lonely Planet (source: Gomo News)

GREAT

We’ve been excited about Augmented Reality (AR) here at GoMo News for some time now. Not merely the stuff of sci-fi anymore, the growth of high-speed mobile devices with good cameras, GPS and faster data connections have made it a real possibility. And when one of the most popular travel services in the world gets involved, it’s time to start paying closer attention.

First up, what’s Augmented Reality?

At it’s simplest level, AR means adding a layer of information over the world around you. It means being able to look at a building, and automatically access information about it. It means having a giant arrow in the sky that always points in the direction of your destination. It means being able to being able to access information and articles that someone has left floating in the street.

This is accomplished through all of the technology that is present in the most up-to-date smartphones. High end devices can use GPS to know exactly where you are. They can use accelerometers to know exactly what direction they’re pointing. They can use a camera to see what you see, and display graphical information over it.

Now, at the moment most of the component parts aren’t really fast enough to make AR a real public offering. It’s a bit too clunky at the moment to attract real adoption. But new technologies are emerging every week, and as AR becomes gradually faster we get companies like Lonely Planet releasing services that are genuinely useful and could attract a lot of consumer attention.

So what is the Lonely Planet offering?

As you probably know, Lonely Planet is one of the most widely used travel information services in the world. It publishes comprehensive and friendly guides to pretty much every city, country or destination in the world (I once spent a week in Venice that would have been completely unbearable without my Lonely Planet guide).

Lonely Planet teamed up with one of the more exciting companies working in the field of mobile AR. Mobilizy is responsible for Wikitude.me, which is an AR service maintained by a community of users and editors. Using the Wikitude World Browser, you can pick up information from the world around as you pass by. The two companies worked together, and have launched a new product called Lonely Planet Compass guides.

Available for Android in the US, there are currently ten cities with Compass guides available. The guides allow you to access any information that Lonely Planet has through your phone at the point of interest.

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Maybe my favourite function is that you can input your own itinerary on the map beforehand. Then during the day you can simply hold your phone up to see your chosen path displayed before you. Very cool!

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So far only Boston, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle and Washington D.C. have Compass guides, but Lonely Planet promises more titles to come soon.

What we think?

Lonely Planet is providing a much-needed but possibly doomed service here. I’m not truly confident that AR has enough support to make this venture worthwhile. It puts Lonely Planet in an odd position: in order for AR to take off, it needs early adopters to release good services and attract attention. But there might not be enough meat on those bones for Lonely Planet to see a good return from its investment. This is a fairly low-key launch as well. With an initial test pool of ten cities, and the app only available for Android users, I wonder if this just a really gentle launch or if we can expect to see a bigger event later.