To be clear, to the best of my knowledge: (1) the application I mention in paragraph six below doesn't exist, and (2) the technology required to implement it is feasible.

The Israeli startup Waze offered just another navigation app. Or did it? An article discussing why Google, which already had its own mapping and navigation app, made that acquisition cited the following possible reasons:

  • Waze had 50 million users. Not necessarily ones who didn't use Google maps at all, but still.
  • Apple's mapping app fell behind. In fact, it was pulled out of the market once. Buying Waze would prevent Apple from buying it and having superior technology to Google's.
  • Have two mapping/navigation platforms and let the market decide.
  • Finally--the added dimension of value: user social interaction.

Let me elaborate on that last point. The only real added value that the Waze app had over Google maps was the ability for users to report accidents, police presence, speed cameras, and other similar issues in real time. Waze created a community of loyal users who would inform one another, better and faster than on any other existing system.

The navigation system in your car, for the most part, is not updated constantly. When a road is temporary closed, your car navigation system doesn't know that. The only way to update it is through buying an update CD (as much as $300), which, most likely, is obsolete the moment it is published, and would never cover construction and temporary traffic changes. On the other hand, mobile phone-based navigation apps are updated all the time "over the air" through the always-on cellular network. Car-based navigation systems do not know what the road conditions are and where traffic jams exist. Some in-car systems have FM radio receivers so you can get such information, but it's not fully up-to-date or detailed. Phone-based apps have very detailed, real-time traffic information. The Waze app is even more detailed and real-time than that.

Did Waze change the way navigation is used? No, it didn't. It only added the element of social interaction. That's it. You don't have to use it. You may not like the user interface. You may decide to benefit from it without contributing to it, but that's the only value add that Waze brought. And it was worth $1.3 billion to Google, which acquired the company in 2015.

This leads to the question: What additional dimension of value can you add to navigation that would warrant such an acquisition? I would claim that the inclusion of augmented reality would be such a dimension. Virtual reality uses a screen to present a completely virtual world. Used mainly in games, but also for science and medicine, it holds no element of the world around you and completely substitutes the virtual world for it. Augmented reality, on the other hand, relies on the mobile device's camera in the back, and presents the view from it on the big display in the front. As a result, the phone may appear transparent. Then, the AR system superimposes virtual visual imagery and information on top of it. One perfect example is the Pokémon Go game. When you see the creatures, you see them through the screen as if they exist in reality.

How can that enhance navigation? Simple. Imagine holding your phone up and looking at buildings around you. The display will show what the camera in the back sees, making the phone appear transparent. You can see all the landmarks around you through the phone. However, the phone app can add information about them. What buildings are those? When were they built? When are they open, and how can you get tickets? Think about a restaurant finder. Point the phone to the restaurant, and on the basis of knowing exactly where you are (using GPS) and exactly where the phone is pointing (using the internal accelerometers, gyroscopes, and MEMS magnetic compasses), it will give you additional information (such as reviews). To make the viewing even more accurate, the camera that faces you can be used to determine exactly where your face (and specifically your eyes) are relative to that screen, to show you the image as if the phone were really not more than a piece of glass.

So far, augmented reality has made it mainly into games, such as Pokémon Go, Ingress, SpecTrek, and more. The use of AR for navigation so far been very limited in apps such as in Wikitude and Spyglass, and even to help you find your car, with Augmented Car Finder. Adding real value to navigation is in your hands. And if you do it right, maybe you could sell it to Google for $1.3 billion. Just like Waze.

So, what do you have to do? Build the app, build a community of loyal users, add advertisement revenue from businesses that will be featured on your app, and once you get enough followers, sell.

 

Published on: Oct 31, 2016
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