Is Google Street View Joining the Augmented Reality Fray?

BY Kit EatonFri Aug 28, 2009 at 4:58 PM

Google’s Street View revolutionized desktop maps, and its coverage of cities around the world is still expanding. But compared to some upcoming augmented reality apps, Google almost feels like its lagging. Is this why its added business metatags to the service?

Google Street View

Google made the announcement yesterday on its blog, with the snappy title « Street View Gets Down to Business. » Now when you search for, say, a restaurant and a specific location on Google Maps, Google’s response will include a Street View hyperlink for specific businesses near that locale. Clicking on it will take you the relevant spot on the Earth in Street View with the restaurant you’re curious about on display. The search result marker even stays pinned to the right spot in Street View while you navigate around.

That’s slightly useful if you’re planning a trip somewhere but don’t know what your destination looks like–though you could, of course, just rely on traditional street address navigation and reading the sign on the joint when you get close enough. But Google’s added an extra couple of features that make a little more sense: When you’ve found your chosen business site in Street View, clicking « find nearby » gives alternative similar options near to your location, letting you see how far away they are in a pleasingly physical way that’s somehow more meaningful than a simple line on a map. Check out Google’s promo video:

It’s clever stuff, and it integrates Google’s search skills with its Street View app nicely. Google also notes it’s « continuously working on improving the quality of the underlying map, and this will result in more and more business being positioned with high accuracy. » But we do have to ask the question: With these augmented reality-like effects, is Google merely demonstrating that Street View won’t stay relevant for long?

Because it’s certainly slightly useful to know where, say, nearby restaurants are when you’re sitting in the comfort of your office chair and planning a weekend trip away. But is seeing the street view of the business useful information, when you’re not even there yet? I suspect not, but concede that if you’re using Street View on a smartphone there’s at least the benefit of being able to check for nearby businesses, which would help you situate things physically near you. But it does seem a lot of bother to download a Street View image when a location-based AR app could do the same thing more simply–you just hold up your phone, and the downloaded data is overlaid onto your view through the camera. Businesses also come and go swiftly, and Street View imagery could quickly become out of date, whereas the point of interest dataset in an AR app is easy to amend.

The augmented reality explosion is literally just beginning, and it seems Google’s painstakingly-gathered geotagged imagery is best used as artificial reality. It’ll be interesting to see which tech remains useful and relevant for longer–and will Google find itself relegated to merely being the data pipe that feeds popular AR apps, or will it flip a switch and turn this into an AR app of its own?

[via Google LatLong]

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