Social networking goes augmented reality

Chris Caceres · December 21, 2009 · Short URL:

Popular Japanese augmented reality application, Sekai Camera lets you comment on anything around you

Tonchidot's Sekai Camera iPhone application has officially launched in the App store here in the US and the rest of the world.  I've been watching this startup for a while now and excited to see the application is available for free, for all of us to give a shot. 

A little run down on Tonchidot.  The small startup based out of Tokyo is the developer of an augmented reality application called Sekai Camera.  The application overlays information on top of what you're viewing on your iPhone through its camera.  Instead of focusing on navigation, as several other iPhone apps have done in the past, Sekai Camera is all about 'tagging' the physical world.  The app was launched in Japan on September 24th, 2009 and saw quite a bit of success.  It reached 100,000 downloads which is about 10% of all the iPhones in Japan in a matter of four days.  Tonchidot said it has become one of the most downloaded apps in Japan and was selected the as the Best App of 2009 by Apple Japan.  Just a few weeks ago, Tonchidot landed $4 million in funding.

Sekia Camera is focused on letting users communicate through digital tags that float in the real world.  For example, users can go to a cafe, take photos, leave comments about what the best thing on the menu is, leave voice notes at the cafe, and all of these can be accessed by the next person that goes in there and turns on their Sekia Camera.  These notes show up on the screen as little bubbles you can access while pointing your iPhone around the location. 

Another feature is a Sekai Life-stream which shows up for your friends so they can see what and where you've interacted in a timeline display.  Users can follow each other of course.  Twitter is also integrated- tweets show up as floating tags on screen at the location they were tweeted from.

The app works on both the iPhone 3G and 3GS, so anybody with a newer generation phone can try it.  Although, since the iPhone 3G doesn't have a compass built in the experience isn't all that it's supposed to be, the app was intended to be used on a 3GS.  Also, since the application is focused on user generated content, it won't really be all that fun until lots of people really start using it and tagging the locations around them.  Hopefully by being launched as a free application, this will encourage iPhone users to really give it a try.

And being that the application is free, Tonchidot needs to find an alternative for monetizing.  The company could potentially make money by selling businesses the opportunity to insert tags (ads) into locations in Sekai Camera.  Another idea could be to create real world augmented reality games.  I've contacted the company to get some more information on its exact business model.

In case you were wondering what Sekai Camera translates to in English: World Camera.

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