Augmented Reality: Google Goggles, more useful than beer goggles?

I don’t own an iphone. I wish I did, but other expenses (videogames) always seem to surface immediately following any and every “saving” mindset I enter. I’ve experienced two and a half years of slight, but only slight, longing for the “game-changing” device, and now I don’t even know if I still want it. A new mobile cowboy’s entered dodge, and he’s the bearer of a custom-made hand cannon. I’m blown away, but do others feel the same?

Android‘s his name. He’s an OS from Google, and quite the gigolo. Unable to settle, he galivants around town, flirting with an increasing number of mobile phones. Meanwhile, the moustache-twirling sheriff, the iphone, sits atop a mountain of money with a mobile phone wife who bears the same name as his (like Kris and Kris or Jesse and Jesse). The iphone OS is a one woman man, bound eternally by his Mac religion. He’ll never stray, and neither will she, but their money might. There’s power and appeal in providing consumers options

But in today’s cell phone climate, every phone needs a killer app, literally. For me, few deadlier than Google’s recently announced “Google Goggles” exist, including the hundreds, even thousands, of games readily available. As far as I can tell after one day of normal web browsing and normal web ad viewing, the company’s downplaying the app’s effectiveness and importance. Conceptually, this is a form of augmented reality for every day use, and it’s from the so-amazing-it-makes-me-feel-funny Google.

The description’s simple. “No need to type your search anymore. Just take a picture,” says the official Google Goggles page. But they warn “This is just the beginning – it’s not quite perfect yet. Works well for some things, but not for all.” For more info, check out the video below.

Okay, calling Goggles a form of augmented reality may seem like a stretch.  Unlike previously developed wearable systems straight out of a science nerd’s dream (and mine), the raw data must be submitted by the user in order to undergo analyzation. Traditionally, that’s one too many steps necessary to qualify as augmented reality. The most highly lauded forms of the technology analyze real-world information on-the-fly and present the results to the user via an overlay on a screen or a personal projector. Social networking and review site Yelp included a version of the former with an updated version of their iphone app, but software’s limited to restaurants and reviews. Another, called Layar, champions itself as “the first mobile augmented reality browser,” but I haven’t toyed with it yet, and reviews say it’s “not yet all that practical/useful.” The ideal version, and far ahead of Google’s meager entry, debuted at TED.

Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry from MIT demonstrated SixthSense, a wearable device made from readily available consumer-level electronics that can scan objects and relay preferential results. What it shows is up to the wearer. I’d explain more, but seeing is believing, so please check out the video below.

Of course it’s the preferable tool, but it’s not a feasible solution to my augmented reality dilemma…of not having my own system. Plus, I’d rather not look like an escaped cyborg failing to “fit in.”

For whatever reason/s, Google’s just toe-dipping with the Goggles. Even if it takes seconds, the delayed response from a submission-styled informational system might prove to be too long for today’s instant gratification consumer culture. Consumers will no doubt turn to instant applications like Layar, but how fast are they really? I can’t say, but videos show delayed results. Google’s system returning information faster isn’t just likely, it’s highly probable. Go ahead and, right now, search for something using the engine. Speed’s a trait championed in both the company’s search and browser, deviating from the established at this point would be an unwise decision.

Another factor to consider regarding Google’s potential dominance in the augmented reality app sector: where the information is coming from. Most of the world uses Google to find stuff on the internet, and for good reason. The patented PageRank system works brilliantly – tossing us, the eternally information starved public, the most relevant search results quickly and efficiently. Layar appears to use its own system, which could be great, but at this point I have little reason to use a Google alternative in any forseeable situation.

Maybe someday Google will release an app or piece of software with live information retrieval capabilities (advertising on a whole new level!), and maybe it’ll be an evolution of Goggles but I’m fine with their decision to focus on functionality rather than snazz. Of course, I haven’t used any of these programs yet, but who’s going to argue against the efficiency and power of the company behind the world’s most powerful search engine?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get ahold of an Android and put the Goggles on my Grandma. I wonder what will come up?

(Hey, iphone users. Don’t get down. Google says they’ll release a version of the Goggles for your favorite phone sometime in the future. But with Apple’s excruciatingly long and difficult approval process, the app could arrive much later than the Android version.)

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