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If the world were your platform, what apps would you build?

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The media world just got used to producing content for mobile — and it’s already facing the next challenge: Soon, people could consume information on a device like Google’s(s goog) Project Glass. An internet-connected set of glasses with a small display, able to overlay information on top of the real world. That’s a huge change, argues Atlantic writer Alexis Madrigal in a recent post titled “The World Is Not Enough: Google and the Future of Augmented Reality.” In it, he writes:

“Imagine you’ve got a real-time, spatial distribution platform. Imagine everyone reading about the place you’re writing about is standing right in front of it. All that talk about search engine and social optimization? We’re talking geo-optimization, each story banking on the shared experience of bodies co-located in space.”

The article is a great piece of tech writing; if you haven’t done so, you should definitely head over to the Atlantic’s website and read it in its entirety. But it also made me think: Who says media is the only thing that is going to change once we use a display that doesn’t function as a separate information entity, but instead overlays bits and pieces onto our view of the real world? And what about that camera, ready to capture whatever we see at any given time?

Chances are, the effects of Project Glass or devices like it are going to be felt far beyond the media world. Case in point: Google first introduced the device at its I/O developer conference earlier this year, and gave developers a chance to sign up for first beta versions of the device on the spot. I see that as a good indicator that Google is going to allow developers to build their own apps for Glass, with code either running directly on the device, or an API that gives apps running on your Android phone a way to exchange data with your Glass device.

Which begs the question: If your apps aren’t just running on a phone or a tablet anymore, but essentially on top of the real world — what kind of apps do you build?

It’s a fascinating question, and I suspect that we can only scratch the surface of it without actually having access to this kind of technology. But even with as little as we know now about Glass, possibilities abound:

  • Your video memory: An app could use the Glass camera and record videos of any conversation you have during the day. These videos could then be run through Google’s automatic captioning algorithms, which would instantly make them full-text searchable. Can’t remember the title of that book someone told you at that part last night? Just search your video memory, and you’ll be able to buy a copy with a few clicks. (Of course, this also gives Google’s goal of organizing “the world’s information and [making] it universally accessible and useful” a whole new meaning.)
  • The quantified world: Project Glass could take the idea of the quantified self to a whole new level. Fitbit may be able to track your exercise and sleep rhythm, but what if apps could track everything around you, turn it into data and guide your lifestyle choices? Your Glass app may notice that you haven’t seen all that much nature today, and suggest a walk in the park. Or maybe it will gamify social interaction. Got a smile from the cute barrista at your favorite coffee shop? Achievement unlocked!
  • Speaking of games: Can you imagine all the social gameplay that an internet-connected Glass display could enable? Forget MMORGs – it’s time for massively multiplayer live action gaming, where game play on computers and cell phones is extended with real-world action. Think Assassin on steroids.

Those are admittedly wild guesses, and chances are, we won’t really know what’s possible until developers actually have access to Glass. But why not collect a few ideas in the mean time? Feel free to leave your own thoughts on apps for the real world in comments — and make sure to check out GigaOM’s RoadMap conference next week in San Francisco to hear more about designing for a connected future.

12 Responses to “If the world were your platform, what apps would you build?”

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  2. SaraSalt

    There are two sides of the game. If what you’re talking about is geo-tagging content to location, then I’d build what Tagwhat ( is building. If’ it’s the delivery interface we’re talking about, then a more advanced version of what Layar ( is trying to do is pretty interesting if you can get past the “gimmicky” feel behind it all.

  3. Glass is just another screen, augmented reality is more practical here but it’s not that different so there are plenty of ideas out there already.

    “Your Glass app may notice that you haven’t seen all that much nature today, and suggest a walk in the park” -any mobile device can do that,no need for a camera. GPS would do, and it’s a scenario Google Now is made for.
    Gaming, sports, learning (tutorials), driving, logging (for law enforcement/army) are the very obvious usage cases where Glass would do great and there are others but it’s not my job to give Google (or others) ideas for free.
    The challenge for Google is not to come up with apps,they only need a couple of killer apps as a hook,the tough part is to convince people that it’s not dorky to wear it, make it cheap, cut weight so we can easily use it 24/7 and not get greedy.

    The dorky part, they are working on it but it’s not going to be easy. Cheap (150$ or less),it can be if they make it an accessory for the phone not a discrete device and that would help with the weight too.
    The greed part might be a problem, Google used to pride itself that the product comes first and they’ll figure out later how to make money from it but lately Google has been disappointing. Nexus devices are crippled on purpose with no microSD slot (i guess do not evil doesn’t include don’t be as greedy as Apple) ,Google Music was a me too product with nothing special,Drive is offering so little storage space that it’s in no way relevant.The only exciting thing Google did in a long time is Fiber but everything else is so un-Google nowdays so it’s starting to be difficult to have faith that they can execute well.
    Btw another big opportunity for Google,that nobody notices yet, is other self navigating robots besides cars (servants,self restocking robots and so on). Those can put Google everywhere,run Android and collect a lot of data for them, mapping the world like nobody can.