August 3, 2009
Interview: Mobilizy’s Mark Kramer on establishing Wikitude as a mobile augmented reality platform
In this second interview of the mobile AR industry series, I interview Mark Kramer from Mobilizy. Some of you would already know them from the release of their leading mobile AR browser, Wikitude world browser, currently available for the Android platform and soon coming to an iPhone and Symbian device near you. You’ll see from the interview that Mobilizy take a different strategic and technical direction to their current major competitor, Layar from SPRXmobile.
I hope you enjoy the insights Mark provides into the workings of the agile, tight-knit team over at Mobilizy.
@siddey: Mark, thanks for fitting me into your hectic schedule to talk about about Mobilizy and the Wikitude world browser for mobile devices for Geographically Challenged. Since we first started corresponding I appreciate you’ve gone to great lengths to make this happen.
@MAMK: I would like to thank Geographically Challenged (from down-under) for asking me/Mobilizy to be a part of this interview series.
@siddey: Firstly, can you tell us a little about your role at Mobilizy?
@MAMK: Generally speaking, Mobilizy designs, develops and implements mobile solutions for location-based services and mobile augmented reality scenarios. I recently joined Mobilizy as the product strategist and human experience lead for WIKITUDE, our flagship project. My role is to engage and communicate directly with our user base in order to develop strategies to improve and enhance the WIKITUDE AR experience.
@siddey: We’ve seen a huge amount of press coverage both on and offline relating to augmented reality in recent months, most of which describes the wikitude browser and a competing application called Layar from SPRX mobile.
Why do you think people are now seemingly so excited about the availability of AR on mobile devices?
@MAMK: We have been working in the mobile AR space for a quite a while now and are excited about mobile augmented reality and location based services because it allows people to place information within a situational context. I believe that people are excited about the availability of AR because it is a more natural way to interact with information in physical spaces. We must not forget, this is just the beginning of an era in which we go beyond Web 2.0 and look towards helping shape the world as a platform. Mobilizy is trying to make it easier for everyone to access and visualize information in the physical world, this is why we believe that the world IS the platform!
@siddey: Mobilizy appears to be taking an extremely open approach to expanding the reach of, and content available within, the wikitude platform. We’re seeing this currently through the primary channels of the wikitude.me community website and also via a de-centralised model with the re-distributable Wikitude control that will allow 3rd party developers to integrate Wikitude features into their own products, whereas your competitors appear more centrally aligned to commercial content interests in seeking content hosting and advertising partnerships.
How do you see your business model differing from your competition and where do you expect the majority of revenue will come from?
@MAMK: Yes our approach is extremely open: Everyone can add data through our recently lauched map-based Website wikitude.me. However our openess goes far beyond that. A few days ago we lauched our Wikitude API (currently in beta). Wikitude API is extremely interesting for 3rd party developers because it enhances their existing mobile applications with AR capabilities.
As an example, take a developer who has already implemented an application displaying geotagged information (points of interest) on a map, and wants to enhance the application by adding an Augmented Reality camera view. Before the WIKITUDE API was available, he would have to reinvent the wheel by creating an AR camera view for their application. Now, anyone can throw in points of interest that are part of any application, connect with the WIKITUDE API and have it displayed through the exciting WIKITUDE camera view. All one needs to do is request the API package from Mobilizy and add the points of interest through the WIKITUDE API interface – that’s all! As a result, any application can be enhanced with WIKITUDE with hardly any effort! Our API is currently in Beta, so any comments or feature requests from developers using the API are very welcome.
There will not only be one Wikitude, there will be hundreds of exciting apps that make use of this exciting technology through the Wikitude API. And we know that we need the community to come up with the most brilliant AR ideas to bring AR to the next level. Our vision is to become a standard for AR development. We see each other as a key enabler of location-based AR solutions. And this is where the majority of revenue will come from.
@siddey: Wikitude.me appears to be a white-labelled version of the geo-location community website, Mobeedo. Can you shed some light on what sort of agreement you have with them in terms of ownership of the intellectual property for content submitted through mobeedo for the purposes of accessing through wikitude?
@MAMK: Wikitude.me is a collaborative effort, not a white-label platform. WIKITUDE and Mobeedo teamed up to create Wikitude.me in order to provide a free, easy-to-use, open, mobile information platform for anybody who wants to access or provide location based and situation-specific information or services via mobile phones.
Basically, Wikitude.me can be understood as a platform which anybody can contribute to freely, very similar to the philosophy of Wikipedia, but for mobile augmented reality. With regards to intellectual property, Wiktude.me will be implemented under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License. Mobilizy will be launching a Wikitude.biz platform for commercial purposes in the near future.
@siddey: In recent weeks we saw Apple open its camera API to 3rd party developers in the OS3.1 beta, apparently as a direct result of all the notable forces in AR banding together to petition Apple to make this available. Can you explain to GC readers why this action was so critical to being able to release AR applications such as wikitude for the iphone?
@MAMK: The iPhone OS camera API is critical in order to release WIKITUDE for the iPhone because the camera API would be the cornerstone of any augmented reality experience. Without the camera view you couldn’t see the information “overlay” and you would not be engaged in an augmented/mixed reality experience. It is important to note that you could still use WIKITUDE without the camera view, but it would not be the same; AR is what makes WIKITUDE attractive and special, this is why we need the iPhone OS camera API.
@siddey: Will we see anything new in the upcoming iPhone release, compared to your current Android version?
@MAMK: Will we see any special features built of the iPhone OS with regards to WIKITUDE? Good question! One way to answer this is to look at what are the strengths and weaknesses of the iPhone. Regarding strengths, we are looking at unique ways to use the unique user interface and find ways to use multitouch to enhance augmented reality experiences.
The lack of true multitasking on the iPhone limits the flexibility of integrating WIKITUDE into other applications running simultaneously on the iPhone, it would be amazing to integrate AR into existing iPhone applications such as iTunes or Safari. Imagine being able to view a video or listen to embedded media in the physical surrounding through your iPhone from within the mixed reality experience of the WIKITUDE World Browser. We can do this now on on our existing Android platform, maybe Apple will make this easier to realize in the near future on the iPhone OS.
@siddey: Thank you for taking some time to answer my questions. Finally I just wanted to gauge how well you have seen wikitude adopted. Can you give us an indication of the number of users you have reached so far and the typical usage patterns?
@MAMK: Wikitude is an extremely popular application with very high grades, high active installation rate, lots of positive comments, a loyal community, and worldwide installs. People appreciate it as the first AR browser around.
Regarding usage patterns we expect that WIKITUDE will be adopted by more and more users as more Android handsets hit the market this year. Moreover, when we launch the iPhone version of WIKITUDE we expect to have a HUGE surge in our user-base, in combination with our Symbian Series 60 version which is in the pipeline.
Also, in terms of adoption of WIKITUDE, we believe that our WIKITUDE API will make a HUGE impact on WIKITUDE adoption and promoting mobile augmented reality as over over 150,000 users who have downloaded the WIKITUDE World Browser. Furthermore, we believe WIKITUDE adoption will be influenced by developers around the world making use of the newly released WIKITUDE API.
Next up in the AR industry interview series you’ll meet some of the original AR pioneers who are currently prototyping future generations of augmented reality devices and applications. They share their views on the current flurry of media surrounding mobile AR and shed some light on the exciting experiments going on in the research labs of some of our greatest institutions.