Wednesday, January 06, 2010

App Architecture Guides

One research component for my guidebook to contemporary architecture in New York City is determining what would work as a digital companion for it, if anything. Many options exist (map overlays, PDF "tear sheets"), but the obvious trend these days is the iPhone app. Below are a sampling of GPS architecture apps that I know of, though there's probably more, if not now than soon enough. Commentary is a bit minimal, as I don't have an iPhone and therefore haven't used any of these apps.

App: Architecture Guide
By: Makayama
Cost: $3.99 after 3-day free trial
Description: "Travel to any place in the world and this guide will tell you, where the most interesting buildings around you are located. It will tell the story behind the building and the architect, displays two pictures for every project and gives you walking or driving directions."
Comments: Text and pics (not maps) are stored on phone, so it is usable without GPS (a criticism I've seen of other GPS apps) and can be used on the iPod Touch. Not sure how many buildings are included as of now or how they are dispersed geographically.

App: FanGuide
By: Prairie Design Group
Cost: $2.99 for each Tour
Description: "The FanGuide Tour and Audio Companion is a multifacted, interactive tour guide designed to profile significant architecture in a dynamic and easy-to-use manner."
Comments: Only four tours are available now, with one in LA and three in and around Chicago. Bonus audio and video is included with maps available offline.

App: MIMOA Mobile
Cost: TBD (My guess is free, since MIMOA is looking for advertisers.)
Description: "This iPhone app will show all nearby architectural projects, and offers extra information on opening hours, how to get there, and of course photos and descriptions."
Comments: None, as app is forthcoming. MIMOA has a huge database of projects, most in Europe, that will make the app fuller than others.

App: 29GPS_Architecture
By: 29GPS
Cost: Free (supported by advertising)
Description: "A visually stunning GPS enabled broadband magazine application that daily showcases a piece of engaging architecture from around the world...from early modernism to bold statements of new structures and new ideas and new talent."
Comments: Includes a radar function that indicates proximity to the featured editorial. Not sure how well the daily feature works for travel in specific cities; learning that one is 3,000 miles from the daily feature seems discouraging.

App: archINFORM content layer (for Layar Reality Browser)
By: archINFORM
Cost: Unknown (Layar pulled from App Store due to crashes)
Description: "[In Layar a] real­time camera view is over­layed [sic] by related meta infor­mation. This data is re­quested on­line from different inter­net sources. archINFORM is one of them! By holding the phone in front of you like a normal camera, you can see now not only building re­lated in­for­mation on top of reality, but also the nearest archi­tecture offices."
Comments: Looks cool if more complicated and requirement-intensive than other apps. That the Layar app crashed and is not available on iPhone means one can only use it with Android.

App: The Phantom City
By: Cheng+Snyder
Cost: Free (project support from the Van Alen Institute New York Prize Fellowship)
Description: "Other Futures [the first tour] let you view visionary designs for the City of New York created by architects and artist of the last century. Walk through the metropolis and see Buckminster Fuller's dome over midtown Manhattan, Antonio Gaudi's unbuilt cathedral, and Archigram's pop-futurist Walking City, while standing on the projects' intended sites."
Comments: A really cool idea, but unfortunately one can only see information on projects when within range of the site. This trait, as well as arranged meet-ups, give the app a social function as well as a means to experience the city by seeing what's not there.

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Conclusions: These GPS apps indicate that architectural content for the iPhone and other devices are in an early phase, still being figured out in terms of content, usability and cost. There's plenty of potential, but the basic idea of finding buildings and learning about them with text descriptions, photos, and audio/video seems to be the norm. GPS capabilities allows people to find out about buildings nearby, even if they weren't on the lookout for them, and that's certainly a positive trait. I'm not sure if a free app with banner ads is better than paying one or two bucks for something that will have content added over time. If the app is good enough (the above average 2.5-3 stars out of 5 on the iTunes App Store) it should be worth spending a little money on it, just like a good guidebook is worth the expense.

The above apps don't make me want to run out and buy an iPhone, but they do make me strongly consider this sort of thing for a digital companion to my book. But I'm torn by the exclusivity of providing functionality to only those owning such a device, even though I acknowledge that the internet is moving towards mobile communications as the dominant interface. Ideally the digital companion will work on a home computer and an iPhone or Android or similar, while also allowing one to print out information as desired...the best of all (digital) worlds.

Update 01.19: Just found out about NAi's augmented reality application Sara, via designboom. It appears to be a hybrid of The Phantom City and archINFORM's apps, melding the latter's Layar format with the former's focus on unbuilt architecture, though Sara also provides buildings slated for construction...some day.