Houston First Corp., which developed the application along with local developer Mouth Watering Media, has plans to expand the app beyond just eateries, lodging and tourist spots.
"One of our major goals is making Houston more accessible to visitors," said Leah Shah of Houston First. "As the nation's fourth-largest city, with over 10,000 restaurants, it can be a little overwhelming to try to find one you want. We want to make it easy for people to explore all the things around them."
The app is an attempt to catch the buzz surrounding augmented reality, or AR, that has become one of the hottest categories in tech. Interest began building after the release in 2016 of Pokémon Go, which turned into that summer's biggest fad. People fanned out across cities looking to capture digital creatures that were overlaid on the real-world view seen through smartphone cameras.
Interest has since accelerated, with Apple, Google and Microsoft all working on augmented-reality products. Microsoft has an AR headset in the hands of software developers, and on Wednesday Bloomberg reported that Apple is also working on a headset that could be launched as early as 2019.
But while it's hot now, augmented reality is not particularly new. In 2009, the restaurant recommendation site Yelp added a feature to its iPhone app called Monocle that looks a lot lot like Virtual Houston AR. The feature is buried deep within Yelp's main menu and doesn't get much use.
Sean Herbert, director of web development for Houston First, said he wasn't aware of Yelp's Monocle until after development on Visit Houston AR was underway. Instead, he said, Pokémon Go was the inspiration.
"The thing that really sparked it was seeing all these people playing Pokémon Go," Herbert said. With a view of Discovery Green from their offices, his staff watched as throngs walked through the park, staring at their smartphones, "searching for all these little digital animals."
The app cost $15,000 to build, Herbert said. It could make money through advertising, providing specific services or charging businesses for location-based notifications.
After downloading the app and launching it on a smartphone, users get to pick from a variety of categories: restaurants, hotels, things to do. Tapping on one brings up the camera's display with small blue cards adorned with business names on them. Tapping on a card, called a waypoint, takes the user to a page on the VisitHouston.com website highlighting that business.
A test of the app shows that not all restaurants or hotels will show up in the augmented reality display, as the content currently focuses on downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Using it at the strip center at Buffalo Speedway and Westpark, for example, the popular restaurants Kenny & Ziggy's and Vietopia there didn't appear. But waypoints for restaurants miles away, such as Barnaby's or Menil Bistro, were visible.Visit Houston AR app for now only focuses on downtown and some surrounding neighborhoods. This screenshot shows Vietopia and Kenny & Ziggy's at Buffalo Speedway and Westpark, but the app doesn't recognize them. A Houston First spokesperson said that will change in coming weeks. Photo: Chronicle Screenshot"> Photo: Chronicle Screenshot The Visit Houston AR app for now only focuses on downtown and some surrounding neighborhoods. This screenshot shows Vietopia and Kenny & Ziggy's at Buffalo Speedway and Westpark, but the app doesn't recognize them. A Houston First spokesperson said that will change in coming weeks. On Yelp's Monocle feature, both Kenny & Ziggy's and Vietopia were highlighted. Photo: Chronicle Screenshot The Monocle feature on the Yelp mobile app - which was first introduced in 2009 - shows Vietopia and Kenny & Ziggy's at Buffalo Speedway and Westpark. Herbert said the app draws from the database of restaurants, hotels and points of interest at the VisitHoustonTexas website. Additional areas will be added to the app as early as next week. Herbert conceded the app needs more refinement. Text on the business cards can be hard to read, for example, and the app may crash if too many cards are displayed at once. Michael Green, manager of emerging and interactive media at Texas A&M University, said he wasn't aware of any other cities utilizing AR in this way, but added that "tourism is a very obvious use of augmented reality." Virtual shopping:See how furniture looks in your home before you buy it
"The big issue is that you have to hold up your smartphone, and that stops people from using it," Green said.
AR will really take off, he added, when it has been integrated into glasses or even contact lenses.
"Right now it's a pretty small market, but in five years we won't think twice about it," Green said.
"We're in phase 1 with this roll out, and there's a lot of room for growth and potential," Houston First's Shah said. "We hope to get good data back on this and improve upon it. After all, there's a lot of food in Houston to be found."
Source : http://www.chron.com/business/technology/article/App-augments-Houston-s-reality-for-visitors-12342535.php