iOS: I still think augmented-reality goggles are the future. Yes, Google Glass was creepy and off-putting, and yes, Snapchat Spectacles tanked, but as I crick my neck after a morning commute spent staring down at my phone, I feel nostalgic for the promise of a heads-up display that replaces my phone's most mundane functions. Especially navigation, the most ridiculous task to accomplish by burying my head in a device. And the iOS 11 app HotStepper reminds me just how fun AR navigation could be.
Image by Nexus Studios
HotStepper is a pedestrian navigation app that doesn't draw you a map. Instead it gives you an AR tour guide who, when viewed through your phone's camera, leads you down the best walking path with a jaunty stride and a bouncing synth beat. Your guide is a pudgy cartoon dude dressed like Sergeant Pepper at the beach.
In practice, the app is buggy and inflexible, but that will get worked out. The real problem, the one that downgrades this from tool to proof-of-concept, is that it's on your phone. It just isn't feasible to hold your phone up during your whole trip. But if you could watch this guy through your glasses, he'd actually be quite useful. AR navigation makes mobile maps and voice directions seem hopelessly archaic, even dangerous.
As Google and Apple push VR and AR on their existing devices, users come up against physical limitations. We struggle to hold our phones high for minutes at a time, or we strap the heavy slabs to our faces. We start dreaming of digital goggles as more than novelty doodads for Silicon Valley sociopaths. Sure, AR glasses are kind of dystopian. But are mobile phones not? HotStepper is just a killer app waiting for the right platform, walking one step ahead of us.