Mercury News recently sat down with Google Vice President of Product Management John Hanke to discuss Google’s Niantic Labs, and the resulting interview gave an interesting sneak peak into how Google is actively exploring ubiquitous computing.

Google acquired Keyhole in 2004. As CEO of the mapping startup, Hanke joined the folks in Mountain View to help “explore the intersection of ‘geo’ and location and mobile, with an eye toward things like ubiquitous computing.”

Ubiquitous computing, as Hanke further noted,  has been around for 20 years: “the idea is that computing devices will disappear into the background and what you’re left with is the benefit of computing, which is information and activities.”

Hanke heads Google’s Niantic Labs—a project exploring experimental mobile-social-local applications. The team just released its first product, a free Android app called “Field Trip“, that essentially serves information based on surroundings to users. As a person roams their neighborhood, for instance, the app employs location technology and databases to retrieve data on local history, landmarks, and restaurants. Field Trip then pushes helpful suggestions for those places and things.

An excerpt from the interview is below. 

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Q: So you’re trying to eliminate the mechanical interface?

A: Yeah. When Field Trip pops up on your phone, you don’t have to unlock the phone. A chime plays and it shows a card with very clear text. And to take it a step further, if you have a headset or Bluetooth, it will read the card to you.

That’s kind of a new frontier — figuring out when it’s appropriate to have your applications proactively talk to you. It’s not for everybody, but I love it. You can have the complete experience without ever removing the phone from your pocket

Q: So what’s the broader mission for Niantic Labs?

A: The group was started to explore the intersection of “geo” and location and mobile, with an eye toward things like ubiquitous computing. I had come in with Keyhole (a digital mapping and imaging startup that was acquired by Google) and helped to grow that group inside Google over several years. In my spare time I was thinking about what we could do with that information in a mobile context: What kinds of apps could we build on this infrastructure?

Get the full interview at Mercury News.

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