Category Archives: Google Maps

When the air itself becomes the gadget

One irony of our virtual-networked age is consumers are still gaga about gadgets. The Internet and apps may give us a million different ways to view weather forecasts on a screen, but as soon as Apple launches a thinner MacBook Pro Air with a black bezel, we’ll run to the mall.

The challenge of course is computer product designs are converging into flat panes, and eventually panes can only go so far. When screens and smartphones achieve the apex of glass, product differentiation will be difficult. Which is why devices soon will move out of solid shapes.

Two examples are laser keyboards and miniature projectors. The Cube Laser Virtual Keyboard is a $180 gizmo that beams glowing keys onto any flat surface, and somehow tracks the position of your fingers as you “click” on the flat QWERTY layout. You pair the device with an iPad and suddenly can type away like mad. (Flatscreen tablets suck at typing, yes.) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that within two years Apple and Samsung will add such laser-keyboard inputs into their tablets and phones. And for output, miniature projectors do exactly what they sound like — beam images from your phone and tablet onto the wall, so you can regale dinner companions with cat videos or hold an impromptu PowerPoint presentation with that executive you meet in the bathroom stall.

The third and most promising way devices will leave their hardware shells behind is virtual reality projections. Google announced this week it is expanding its Google Maps 3-D modeling (which renders photorealistic images of major metro buildings, streets, water, and flora from aerial imagery) to mobile phones. Now your handset can unveil a virtual earth tied to your location. If Google has figured out how to compress this powerful software into small handsets, the next step will be putting it inside your glasses, and soon you can overlay any fiction on the world you wish. Some clever hackers twisted the Google Project Glass teaser video to show how you could overlay the “Battlefield 5” game onto your neighborhood walk, if only you wore the right pair of virtual-reality spectacles.

Soon, keyboard inputs, video projections, and virtual reality will dance in the air around our fingers and eyeballs. The hunger to buy the next Apple product will fade, because slightly recast aluminum shells will become commoditized and a glass tab that transforms into a high-def screen is just another piece of glass. Apple, Google/Motorola, Samsung, Dell, HP and other gadget manufacturers will need to spend more time thinking through virtual interfaces than concrete shells. Play it forward and you’ll see plenty of opportunity for garage startups to break into this new anti-product world. When the air itself becomes the gadget, the definition of product design will change.

Google Maps goes indoors … ooh, look, a sale!

The Holy Grail of marketing is the ability to influence consumers when they finally go into purchase mode — and today, in 2011, after all our decades of advertising influence, we still can’t do that. Walk into a wine shop or Victoria’s Secret and there is no voice whispering in your ear saying, please, buy this instead. Some mobile apps attempt this but most are cumbersome, filled with game mechanics of points and mayorships. Joe Sixpack is just too serious to adopt Foursquare games.

Google gets closer by bringing its Maps feature indoors. Users of Android handsets can boot up layouts of airports, malls, or stores (all in staged rollout) such as Home Depot and Macy’s. Google claims the GPS system is tuned tightly enough that it can even recognize your position if you move up or down levels in a store or mall with multiple floors.

If adoption takes off — dang, we want it already on our iPhone — consumers will tap a platform built for last-minute marketing offers. Tie it with a database on your preferences and value (information Google in partnership with merchants could access), and personalized offers designed to influence only you could finally arrive. “Turn right off the escalator, dear, instead of left. The lingerie is on sale, 50% off, but only if we walk in now.”

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.