Like other megalithic technology giants including Facebook and even Xerox once upon a time, Google (Alphabet?) has many a skunkworks lab deep inside the halls of the company tasked with thinking creatively about execution and exploring non-traditional concepts, and which doesn’t have to worry about revenue or reaching the masses. One of those labs released three new apps for Android today, all of which center around using the device camera and sensors in (unsurprisingly) unique ways.
Landmarker, according to its description in Google Play, “turns your orientation into an interface, revealing key destinations around you.” Basically, you hold your phone up horizontally like you’re taking a picture, and as you turn and move around, the app shows you what landmarks and points of interest are in the direction your phone is pointed. It feels like augmented reality initially, where contextual information is overlaid on what of the world your phone’s camera can see, however you then realize that the app is not utilizing the camera at all but rather location and orientation data it gathers from the device sensors.
From what I can tell, Landmarker is best viewed without comparison to augmented reality, and the preconceived notions you may have about mobile apps in that space including Google’s own Word Lens (now baked into Google Translate) and nearly-abandoned Google Goggles. This is something different, I’m just not yet sure what.
Next up is Tunnel Vision, a video capturing app with unique filters that distort the world around you to “alter your perception.” One of the filters, for example, reduces your field-of-view to a really small rectangular section in the middle of the camera’s sight, bordering around it the rest of the scene and shooting it outwards (check out the video above). The app utilizes GPS to detect when the camera shakes and moves, and so some of the filters I found make me nauseous really quickly. You can then export these video recordings and upload them wherever you’d like, so I no doubt expect to see some more creative types experiment with it on platforms like Instagram and Tumblr. Nothing particularly utilitarian, however.
The last app to go live today is Lip Swap, which does pretty much exactly what you think it does: You take a picture of yourself or upload one of someone else, and then after erasing portions of the pictured face you can use the front-facing camera to replace (or swap, hence the name) the erased sections with your own face. Upload a picture of Barack Obama, for example, and replace his presidential smile with your tongue sticking out.
All three apps are, at face-value, of the lowest common denominator. They include bold (well, save for Lip Swap) descriptions of what they can do, but it seems like hyberbole to me — are these video filters going to alter my perception of the world in some permanent, life-changing manner? I’m not sure. Landmarker is at the very least somewhat useful, although it doesn’t seem super efficient with its lack of personalization mechanisms or information density. In short, we’ve seen all of this before.
We don’t really know the story behind these apps, however, and it’d be odd to me if a team with such the grand purpose of thinking differently was just making what are essentially of the same value as the million clock apps in Google Play. I’m interested to hear what the creators have to say about them.