Wikitude: A Promising First Step for a Virtual Tour Guide

Wikitude is a location-based information application for Android by Mobilizy. It is available free on the Android Market.Wikitude was a top-50 finalist in the Android Developer Challenge, and like ShopSavvy, it is a good illustration of what’s possible with the mashing together of the G1’s capabilities. In this case, Wikitude uses the GPS for location-awareness and combines that with the wealth of information that’s available from Wikipedia.

Aimed squarely at tourists, this app superimposes information about points of interest on either a Google map or a view through your camera’s viewfinder. It calls this “augmented reality,” and it’s a pretty cool effect.

Battery Buster

Two caveats: Since the application uses your phone’s GPS chip and the camera viewfinder, it sucks battery power pretty quickly; and the GPS needs to get a fix on your location in order to give you accurate results — something that can take a few minutes, depending on where you are.

It’s best with any GPS-based application to stand outside in a clearing to let the chip get a lock on where you are — you can use the “Maps” native app to lock in your position before going forward.

The main criticism I have is that the database of points of interest is a little slim, but you’ve got to give the developer a bit of leeway on that, since it’s 1) a free application, and 2) a relatively new one at that.

Slim Pickings

In Los Angeles, for example, there’s a listing for the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, definitely a must on many people’s must-see lists, but where’s the Kodak Theater? What about the Getty Center or La Brea Tar Pits?

As a test, I chose another tourist destination, the Caribbean island of Antigua. Wikitude offers about two dozen points of interest for Antigua, but most tend to be small villages of little note, while actual points of interest are left out. There’s a listing for English Harbor (pop. 759), but none for English Harbor’s most notable feature, Nelson’s Dockyard.

When you search sites in Rome, Italy, however, the points of interest are much more tourist-oriented, including notable churches, palazzos and bridges as well as the Circus Maximus. However, the Colosseum — while plainly visible on the satellite view — is not marked.

The listings are sure to get more comprehensive as the app grows in popularity, and for now they offer a pretty good taste of what’s possible, but they are a little slim. This app is a good demonstration of what’s possible with Android, and is worth watching.

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