Steve Litchfield takes Wikitude, the ambitious augmented reality browser for Symbian (plus iPhone and Android) for a spin in his local area. What sort of things can Wikitude help you find and is the app ready for mass market adoption yet?
Version Reviewed: 2.0.2
The idea behind Wikitude is to have a large number of 'worlds', essentially 'points of interest' databases that can be loaded in real time based on your current location and then displayed on a 'heads up' view on a live camera view of the world in front of you. The icons for each item float in the air around the horizon, with their position determined by their current compass direction from your position - a prerequisite, therefore, is a digital compass in the phone, which instantly knocks down the number of compatible Symbian-powered handsets somewhat (there's a list at the bottom of this review, along with appropriate download links).
For the purposes of this review, I used the S60 3rd Edition FP2 Nokia N86 (since I found that my Nokia N97 couldn't handle Wikitude because it's written in Qt and the Qt runtime would have blown away my N97's C: disk!), one of the few Nseries phones supported.
When starting Wikitude, you're presented by a list of currently available worlds - these are 'live' and loaded from the Internet, so you don't have to upgrade the app to pick up new worlds. A selection of these are 'ticked' by default and 'Open CamView' is highlighted to get you off to a flying start. The N86 has a covered camera glass so you do have to remember to open this (and then manually exit the Camera app) first, otherwise you'll get the augmented reality information displayed on the front camera view - you, which will be just plain wrong.
Before anything is shown in CamView, you need to calibrate the digital compass - as in Ovi Maps, waving the phone around like a demented octupus for a few seconds usually does the trick. It's apparent that a number of the 'worlds' are commercial, explaining the hotel and restaurant icons that pop up in abundance, even in semi-rural Berkshire where I live, but you can untick these and select other, more altruistic worlds, such as Flickr, showing geotagged photos nearby.
As you spin round with the phone, icons appear, hanging in the virtual air, showing roughly the direction of each item/attraction. A radar display at bottom-right shows the items that have been loaded based on your current position (as determined by Symbian's built-in Location system - GPS/cell-tower/etc), and up and down on the d-pad let you change the scale of this display. Left and right on the d-pad cycle between the Wikitude items that are on-screen and d-pad Enter brings up more information on the selected item, along with its exact distance.
In a target-rich environment (such as in a big city) you should, in theory be able to navigate to interesting things by simply walking towards the icons and adjusting course if necessary. In practice, there's the obvious drawback of looking a bit of a nerd as you stroll along holding your phone out in front of you (and it has to be right out, at 90 degrees, or the icons don't appear), with the attendant possibilities of tripping over a kerb or getting mugged.
There's also the not so obvious drawback that Wikitude is a huge battery-drainer. From the processor-intensive, constantly-updated main interface, add in the fact that the camera's in constant use, as is the GPS, as is the data connection, and you have a recipe for battery disaster. Wikitude managed to drain my full charged N86 battery in an hour. It's this as much as anything which tends to make me want to brand Wikitude something of a novelty and not a serious exploration tool - after all, if you're out exploring a strange area then, by definition, you're going to be away from obvious mains chargers and wanting your phone's battery to last as long as possible.
Those caveats aside, Wikitude's base concept and functionality work well. Some of the 'worlds' are ridiculously specific, e.g. 'Solent Marks 2010', marks for a specific yachting competition, but hey, at least you can just check the worlds you want and don't want, bookmarking any which are particular favourites. Which is just as well, since the current Wikitude client has a nasty habit of forgetting which worlds you've ticked and reverting back to the default selection - very annoying.
Also annoying is the general 'flat' menu structure, in which it's currently far too easy to dive into a menu item such as 'Settings' and then find yourself exiting the app when you merely thought you were getting out back to the main interface. Add in a few program 'hangs' and some spurious function key labels on this, the S60 3rd Edition client, and I get the feel that Wikitude is still immature and requires work before it's ready for mass market adoption.
In terms of data sets (worlds), it's clear again that, while it's fairly early days, there's still enough of interest even in a backwater like mine to not only try out Wikitude but also find a few things of genuine interest. With Wikitude also available for the Apple iPhone and for Android, there's clearly huge potential for growth in data sets, in raising money with more commercial 'worlds' and, of course, in further development of the Symbian client.
If you've tried the S60 5th Edition client on a Nokia N97 mini, then please comment below - how does the touch version of Wikitude fare?
Steve Litchfield, AAS, 22 July 2010
Wikitude download links
For N97 and N97 mini (either with or without Qt Smart installer):
For the phones in the list below, please download Wikitude here (either with or without Qt Smart installer):
Wikitude 3rd edition with Qt Smart installer (0.7 MB)
Wikitude 3rd edition with Qt libraries (9 MB)
- Nokia E72
- Nokia N86 8MP
- Nokia 6788
- Nokia E52
- Nokia 5730 XpressMusic
- Nokia 6710 Navigator
- Nokia E55
- Nokia 6720 classic
- Nokia 6210 Navigator
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at