HP is betting on GPS-enable devices and enthusiastic developers to help a new mobile multimedia platform move out of its research labs and into the mainstream.
The technology uses GPS tracking to run location-based programs ranging from city tours and to 'scavenger hunt' games on smartphone and PDAs. The interactive programs contain a mix of content such as audio tracks, graphics and video clips -- all of which can be triggered as you move into a location detected by the device's GPS module.
This also opens up the potential for the programs to react based on parameters such as the speed of movement between locations, proximity to a location and time of day.
The company developed the technology, dubbed 'mscape' (for 'multimedia landscape') in its HP Labs hothouse, but has set up an mscapers.com Web site where anyone can download a prototype wizard-driven authoring kit for creating their own mediascapes.
The site also includes several ready-made mediascapes and a beta copy of the necessary mscape player, which can run on any GPS-enabled device built around Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS.
Some of these mediascapes are location-independent, meaning that they can be used anywhere once the user defines the 'boundaries' of the space based on their current GPS location.
Journalists attending the company's recent 2007 Mobility Summit in Shanghai were given the chance to experience an mscape using an iPAQ rx5900 Travel Companion as their pocket-sized guide on a short walking tour along part of downtown Nanjing Road and the People's Park.
Although it took several minutes to obtain a lock from the overhead GPS satellites, the tour then progressed smoothly. The audio commentary seemed to kick in at just the right moment as we approached a building or other landmark, and was also used to guide us to statues and sculptures where more detailed descriptions were provided.
Downsides? Headphones will be a must-have in order to be able to hear the commentary in a busy street, while most mobile phone and PDA screens are almost unreadable in daylight -- so if you're tempted to take an mscape tour, night time will be the right time.
David Flynn travelled to the HP Mobility Summit in Shanghai as a guest of HP.