This is augmented reality for your ears.
Foursquare began as a social check-in program and offers helpful advice to others who wish to become mayors. It became a local search provider, but after it was denied acceptance and investors felt uncomfortable, the company took the position data. And while the Foursquare app still exists, it’s now primarily a primary database for B2B analytics companies.
Clippy knows her. With Marsbot, founder Dennis Crowley invented Foursquare for sound. Crowley calls this an “experiment,” a lightweight virtual assistant that whispers local tips (and other fun snippets) proactively into your headphones as you walk. Tongue in mouth, he describes Marsbot as a cross between the original Foursquare, Microsoft Word Clippy, and the virtual assistant for the movie “Her”.
Currently, Marsbot is only available for iOS, but an Android app is available. This is a mobile app, but most of the actions are done with headphones.
As users roam the city, Marsbot proactively whispers things you might find interesting. In that case, things can be places, buildings, public art, or people. If you allow it, the app will notify other Marsbot users that you are nearby and vice versa. People can also record audio clips about places other people will listen to.
A basic use case is when you are (in the future) in a restaurant and you get suggestions about menu items in your ear. It will also let you know, without asking, that there are other interesting places in the area. However, users must be in or near places to activate Marsbot.
100 million users on the bridge.
This is essentially the same vision Crowley had for Foursquare, which was planted on AirPods. At the beginning of the activity, I always spoke of “friendly cities”. Marsbot is committed to using local Foursquare data and user-generated content to deliver on its promise through augmented reality, which isn’t limited to just the smartphone camera.
There could be more than 100 million people in the United States with AirPods or similar headphones. A large number of potential users already exist.
A virtual assistant in your headphones that can make you smarter or improve your experience of the world is more attractive than glasses (see Google Goggles). It is not necessary to mention Marsbot with a “hotword” such as “Ok Google”. Use your location: Must be “always-on” to activate audio prompts.
The idea was inspired; implementation is the key to deciding if people adopt and use it. Either way, Marsbot is a pioneer in a new category of augmented reality audio programs that offer all kinds of exciting possibilities.
Because we care.
The marketing implications are very clear here: brand awareness or local advertising opportunities related to location. Once on the website, the user can also take advantage of a special offer. But monetization will follow adoption if Marsbot goes that far.
However, the right user experience will be difficult. Even at this stage, fringe use cases, such as reports for family members, can predominate. We hope Foursquare continues with the app. It can also become a model for a range of new RA audio experiences.
The Foursquare Labs team recently researched several topics, including:
• The application cannot be used:
We don’t think “the future of software” looks like someone is constantly browsing Instagram or Twitter. Not even 100 different apps are constantly sending you the notifications you need. We believe that the future of software lies in applications that understand context and environment and applications that intelligently guide them when something interesting or important is on the horizon.
• Proactive virtual assistants:
We always think of Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant as geniuses living in the magical light of our phones. The problem is, the ghost won’t show up if you don’t rub the magic lamp (“Hey Siri! Hey Alexa! Ok Google!”). But what if whoever hits you is a genius?
Sounds like ‘augmented reality for the poor’:
If you see the AR event as a ‘vision’, the whole space is waiting for hardware innovation, especially some form of AR glasses that people want to wear all day long. We built the “lowest common denominator” of augmented reality hardware that exists today (and that people use all day): headsets. (Note: we’re not the first to flirt with this idea).
• App for AirPods:
While we have apps for our phones, watches, TVs, and cars, we haven’t seen any apps designed specifically for AirPods, especially regular AirPods. When we started, we asked ourselves, “What’s the value of an app to someone who keeps an AirPod in their ears all day … even when they’re not actively listening to anything?” (Again vaguely inspired by him.)
• Software that makes cities more user-friendly: that was Foursquare’s original mission when we started the company about ten years ago. We dream of large, personalized maps, technology made possible by chance, and software that encourages and rewards exploration. This DNA is still strong in much of the work Foursquare does today.
So, what is Marsbot for AirPods?
Think of him as a “proactive walking assistant” (yells at Lindsay Zver, who came up with the phrase during a Q&A session I did with Boston College students). It’s simple: put your AirPods in your ears and while you walk, Marsbot will proactively whisper to you about things you might find interesting. The whisper can be about a place, an object, a building, street art, or even a person (!). We pause your podcast and mute your music while you whisper (and never interrupt a voice or video call).
We built Marsbot for AirPods to make you feel like you’re walking down the street with a friend who knows all about the city and always shows you the coolest things. Many of the notifications are designed to help you post and recognize things you may not have noticed, even if you’ve already tried them 100 times.
Here are some examples of things you can hear while walking around New York’s landmarks:
• [PLAY] According to Foursquare, Blue Bottle Coffee is the number 1 bar in Greenwich Village.
• [PLAY] Los Tacos # 1 is a taco shop on Eater’s “38 Essential Restaurants” list.
• [PLAY] Sotto 13, on the south side of W 13th Street, is an Italian restaurant with a Foursquare rating of 8.6
• [PLAY] Alex is on Scratcher!