Pros and Cons of Geotagging

[ˈdʒiːəʊ-tæg‐ɪŋ]- noun, verb

1. The addition of geographical location data to mixed media such as photos, video, tweets or social media status updates.
2. The last surrender of privacy by telling the whole world where you are and where you are not at any given time. Particularly loved by stalkers and robbers.

Before the days of mobile phones we were always struggling to tell people where we were or trying to arrange to meet up. This is now easy thanks to technology and mobile phones. It’s even now reached ridiculous levels thanks to geotagging, the act of adding location data to everything you do. As if it wasn’t enough telling everyone around the world via Facebook and Twitter what you are having for lunch you can now tell them where you are having it too.

  • Giving out live information of your whereabouts is like broadcasting to burglars that you’re not at home
  • You have to be careful about checking in to places if you have told little white lies to other people about not feeling well enough to go out
  • Unbeknownst to many people, geotagging info is automatically hidden inside photos taken with devices such as the iPhone camera
  • Sadly we all know that paeodophiles are very internet-savvy and geotagged photos of children can help them build up maps of children’s movements
  • Celebrities taking geotagged photos at home have unwittingly given away their home addresses

It’s not all bad news though. Far from it. The technology is great, but is just being misused and misunderstood by many people. Geotagging can be switched off or customised. Arguably it should be opt-in in the first place. Sites like are trying to raise awareness about inadvertent information sharing and helping educate people about how to gain control of their personal location info. On an iPhone it’s easy to switch geotagging off on the camera. You just need to know how to do it. And if you are aware of your location data and are using it wisely there are many advantages of geotagging.

  • Sharing locations with specific friends (such as with Path) to help meet up at concerts or festivals for example
  • Documenting holidays by having your holiday photos arranged by location or uploaded to Google Maps automatically
  • Aiding disaster recovery teams
  • Sophisticated augmented reality apps

One of the biggest ways in which geotagging is currently being pushed is for location based marketing. This started off with companies such as Starbucks offering free coffee to people who became Mayor of their coffee shop on FourSquare or Gowalla. Now you can get push notifications from high street stores when you check-in somewhere nearby. With the advent of Facebook Places, and all the personal data that Facebook stores about individuals, you can bet that soon you will be receiving more and more accurately targeted marketing notifications. If you list photography as your main hobby on Facebook then you will probably be told of camera offers whenever you are near a photography shop. And because they will have access to your trends over time it will help the adverts be more refined to your movements and habits and also provide ads over mixed media depending on your tastes.

I feel that the marketing aspect of geotagging is on the cusp of either becoming very efficient in terms of only giving us adverts we want to see, or becoming very annoying and bombarding us everywhere we go with personalised ads like in Minority Report. We shall see which way it goes.

Oh, and where did I write this blog? I’m not telling you.

[Via LEWIS 360]

iPad: first reaction

We were lucky enough to get our hands on an iPad in our London office today. And I can tell you it’s been hard to get our hands off it.  And yet some people are still saying it’s just a big iPhone. So what’s the fuss all about?

Is it just a big iPhone?
I don’t think so. For one thing you’re not able to make calls on it, and so you shouldn’t be. It’s not supposed to be a replacement for your phone. Replacement versions of things normally get smaller and more compact, not bigger. This is something else. It doesn’t replace anything.

So what is it?
The iPad is something new. It’s a portable viewer. It’s not going to replace your laptop and it’s not going to replace your TV. What it does do, however, is blur the lines between some of the functionality of both of those mainstay devices. You can do some laptop things on it. You can do some TV things on it. And you can do some book things on it too. And the key thing is that you can do these things whilst lounging back on the sofa. You can show your partner. You can pass it round your friends. It’s a portable, sociable, media viewer. It enhances the experience of things you already do and lets you do them in a different way and on one device.

Do we need that?
Maybe not, but how often do you have to call everyone round your laptop to show them something cool and they all complain about having to get up. Or your laptop rocks unsteadily on your knees on the sofa and when you pass it on to show your friend they have to sit upright in order to hold it correctly. And mice just don’t work on the sofa.

What can you do on it?
Here in the UK we can’t yet download apps from the AppStore. That comes later this month. But even the native apps on the iPad are gorgeous. Email. Calendar. Maps. Web. Notes. Mags. Video. Photos. The experience of using all of these apps is much better than using them on your iPhone or your laptop. I am particularly excited, however, about reading books, magazines and comics on it. That alone is 100 times better than a Kindle because it’s colour and has video. Other features it has are a pure bonus. Using StreetView together with a friend sitting next to you is just a joy and so intuitive.

What else could come in the future?
Board games, children’s learning apps, augmented reality apps. You name it.

Is it a game-changer?
Not really, because people don’t actually need it. It’s providing a great solution for a problem that wasn’t huge. But it’s pushing forward an area which definitely will be game-changing. It’s a kick-starter.

Is it essential?
No. It’s a luxury. But I still want one.

Augmented Reality demo

2010 has been dubbed the year of Augmented Reality. Here at LEWIS PR we have started experimenting with this exciting new technology and you can see our first proof of concept below. Give it a go and let us know what you think. We have some more useful AR apps in the pipeline and we look forward to developing this technology further.

LEWIS PR Augmented Reality demo

Don’t judge an eReader by its cover

When I ‘designed’ an eReader 14 years ago in my first year of Product Design Engineering at University it was part of a ‘blue sky products of the future’ project. I had no idea when something like that would actually become reality. Well, that time is now. The past 12 months have seen the launch of several products such as the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook and the industry-leading Amazon Kindle. The next 12 months is going to see an extensive range of new and improved eReaders, many of which were showcased at the recent CES.

New eReaders include the Que, the Edge, the Alex and the not-so-interestingly-named Asus DR-750.

This new range of eReaders will offer us a completely revolutionary reading experience.

  • colour screens
  • video
  • shatter proof screens
  • flexible screens
  • easily downloadable books, newspapers and magazines
  • interactive reading
  • sharing facilities
  • annotations
  • downloading attachments from smartphones
  • one-hand navigation
  • text-to-speech

What about Apple?
Good question. There have been rumours about the Apple Tablet or iSlate for about a year now and we should know what their plan is when they announce ‘something’ on Jan 27th. Many people are saying that the rumoured iSlate will be the killer eReader. I’m not so sure, as many people will just want a lightweight simple eReader to read their books on rather than a fully functional tablet computer. According to this latest Wall Street Journal article though, it looks like Apple is certainly going to be entering into the eBook battle as they have been in discussion with the publisher HarperCollins.

Pros and Cons of eReaders
Having so much information, books, magazines in the palm of your hand on one device will certainly save on storage costs, paper usage and travel weight. But what else? Will we all start carrying one of these devices in our bags everywhere we go? When you go to the dentist will they have a pile of eReaders for you to browse through? Will we swat flies with rolled up flexible eReaders? I think it will certainly change how newspapers and magazine deliver content. Already some eBook software apps like Blio and Copia are changing the way they present eBooks to utilise the functionality of these new eReaders. This will only continue until soon it will evolve naturally into something that we didn’t envisage. One area I am particularly excited about is the evolution of comic books and graphic novels as they make their way onto eReaders and tablets. This is set to become a huge market.

Will they replace books?
Personally, as a gadget lover, I am very excited about being able to have so many books and magazines on one device. I will, however, miss certain things about the physical objects they are trying to replace.

  • folding over a page that I like
  • bookmarks (yes that word actually used to mean something else before the web browser)
  • writing notes down the side of a page and then reading them years later
  • the smell of a new book (maybe they will synthesize that smell one day)
  • knowing at a glance who many pages you have left before the end of the chapter, or the satisfaction of seeing your progress as your bookmark is more than half way through the book
  • the collection of attractive spines growing along your bookshelf and showing them off when your friends come round and browse your library
  • being able to pick up and look at books in a book shop
  • browsing racks of magazines

And how will students make up mood boards for university projects now if they can’t cut up magazines? To be honest they will probably do eMoodboards using new smart screens in college or something like that. The reality is that I don’t think that eReaders will fully replace these forms of media. They are offering a slightly different experience and there will always be a need for physical books.

So what next?
This fantastic video below, which has been doing the rounds for a few weeks, highlights Bonnier’s concept for a possible future of digital magazines.

eReaders are no longer trying to reproduce books or magazines. They are becoming something new all of their own.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

3DTV in your face

You can’t get away from it. 2010 has been billed as being the year of 3D. This certainly seems to continue to be the case at the CES show in Las Vegas this week with lots of blog posts about 3DTV already popping up. Obviously there have been many more 3D films in the cinema recently, in particular the major blockbuster Avatar, and consumers are eager to get this technology into their living room.

But what exactly are we talking about when we say 3D? It’s not to be confused with computer generated models such as in the original Toy Story animation. These are often referred to as 3D models or CGI, but when you view them on a screen you still see a flat image, because it’s a flat screen. Both of your eyes are seeing the same image and therefore there is no difference in depth. What we are talking about now is officially known as Stereoscopic 3D.

Stereoscopics, or Stereo 3D, has been around for many many years, starting with people creating stereo 3D photographs taken with two cameras a few inches apart and then placing the photos in a special viewer box like binoculars which forces each eye to look at it’s respective photo. The brain does the rest. Things have moved on from there though and we now have about 4 main viewing styles. A quick synopsis…

Anaglyph glasses (red and blue)
This is what many people still think of when they think of 3D video. Not really very impressive and a bit cheap. Channel 4 in the UK got people excited when they announced a 3D week on their channel recently, only for people to then discover it was just going to be with those annoying red/blue images again. This technology has been around for a while and was very popular in the 50s and 60s. Cheap glasses but you lose a lot of the colour information of the image. This is only used on current monitors as it is the only method most of them can handle.

Polarised glasses (passive viewing)
This is what you get when you go to the cinema these days. Two projectors project an image each onto the screen but the light from each is polarised in a different way. The glasses are lightweight and inexpensive. Each lens blocks out one of the polarised lightwaves and therefore each eye gets the correct image. One slight drawback with this method is that the image is in essence ‘interlaced’ which means that each eye only gets half the number of lines in the image. HD will not be ‘full’ HD therefore. The quality difference, however, is negligible.

Shutter glasses (active viewing)
This method has no quality loss at all. Each eye’s full res image is played alternately at very quick succession. The glasses, however, are bulkier and more expensive as they need to synchronise with the projector/monitor so that it blocks off each eye at the same rate as the images are being displayed. This method can be used with current monitors that have a high enough refresh rate of 120hz (only a small number of expensive computer monitors). A synch unit is also required to make them work.

No glasses (autostereoscopic / lenticular)
This is the latest breakthrough technology and there are already a few models available which use tiny lenses on the monitor itself to split the image before it hits your eyes. It’s very complicated to make and in terms of viewing it’s great not having to wear glasses but you do have to be in a sweet spot to view it correctly and not move too much. This is definitely the future though and as the technology improves and the price comes down I think we’ll see these models become mainstream within 5 years.

  • I have used anaglyph since I was a young child and never really been that impressed with it
  • I made stereo 3D videos and computer game levels with the shutter glasses at University about 9 years ago and while it was good quality I still found the glasses gave me headaches. There was also often hardware issues with the glasses not synching up correctly
  • I recently went to Inition in London and received a demo of the Autostereoscopic lenticular method which I had never seen before. It is a very strange sensation to see 3D images without wearing glasses
  • The polarised glasses are great and don’t induce nausea. For me these are the winners right now

So how do I view 3D?
If you have a great computer monitor and are happy installing new software and drivers then you can use something like Nvidia’s GeForce 3D Stereo kit. Otherwise, and if you want to view it in the luxury of your living room the bottom line is that you will have to buy a new TV.

A new TV?
Yes. I’m afraid so. You probably just bought a new HDTV too didn’t you? The good news is that after CES there should be a larger number of manufacturers bringing out 3DTVs so hopefully a price war might begin. Further good news is that existing set top boxes (such as the Sky+HD box) will be able to handle the 3D signal. Playstation3s will also be able to show them after downloading a firmware update. TV manufacturers are, however, split over which technology to go with. Some are launching shutter glasses systems while others favour the polarised glasses. The good news is that content which is produced in 3D will be compatible with all the hardware.

But is there any content to watch?
Not a huge amount yet but there has been some great news recently about organisations working on new content. Sky in Europe will be launching a 3D channel this year, primarily filming live events in 3D such as sport and concerts. ESPN has followed suit by announcing their 3D plans. The big news at CES yesterday was that IMAX will be linking up with Sony and Discovery to produce 3D content later this year.

Will everything be produced in 3D?
This is debatable. My recent review of Avatar highlighted how action movies maybe aren’t the best exponents of the 3D technique. The fast cuts and changes in camera angles don’t go well with 3D as the brain can struggle to keep working out the new depths on screen. Better content is things like sport, live events and science documentaries. This also seems to be the way things are going with the recent Sky, ESPN and IMAX/Discovery announcements.

Will it become mainstream?
Everywhere we look just now we are seeing 3D. YouTube has also just recently launched a 3D element to its videos. As I said above I don’t think every form of video is suited to 3D. Others are perfectly suited. As directors and producers gain more experience in what shooting styles work, we should see a better and more focussed range of content.

What will be the killer use?
For me the killer app will be games. When you interact with a 3D image it makes it much more ‘believeable’ as your brain almost moves with it. It works. You control it as it moves and you feel a part of it. You also control the speed of the movement which is crucial. This will also link in with the recent swathe of Augmented Reality apps we are seeing and incredible games such as EyePet.

What’s next?
Viewing without glasses is the next big thing for 3DTVs but in terms of the user experience watch out for head-tracking and haptic interfaces. They let you move round an object and get a new perspective on it as well as touching it with force feedback. Industry and Medicine will lead the way with this but it’s only a matter of time until we see that in our living rooms too.


After all the hype about the stereoscopic 3D effects in James Cameron’s Avatar movie it was surprising how that wasn’t the thing that impressed me the most about the film when I saw it this week. It was the character animation and totally seamless blending of real actors with CGI that blew me away.


CGI characters have historically been shiny round things ever since Luxo Jr and Toy Story many moons ago. Then, when hair was possible, we had Monsters Inc to show off that effect. Polar Express attempted lifelike characters but produced almost expressionless mannequins. Final Fantasy looked great but it was still obvious you were watching CGI. And let’s not even talk about Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars Episode I. What James Cameron and Weta Digital have achieved in Avatar is a realism never seen before. Ok, the aliens are still blue (affectionately referred to by many as Thundersmurfs) but human skin tones are still notoriously difficult to render. It’s the motion capture which is the ground breaking element in this film. It’s even now referred to as ‘performance capture’ as it truly does capture the actors’ performances, right down to their eyes. It’s very strange watching Sigourney Weaver’s Avatar when you totally see her mannerisms and facial expressions in the animation. You really will forget, for much of the film, that you are watching CGI characters.

People have said that this means the end of actors, and that we can keep actors appearing on screen in new films after they die because we will have their facial structure and expressions saved on computer. I have to say I’m really not sure about that to be honest. What about their voices? That’s probably about 70 percent of the acting. And the reason the CGI characters work in Avatar is because of the performance capture from the real actors, not just because of any master animators.

Now we come to the 3D. This was perhaps the most hyped part of the film and it really is fantastic. But to be honest, as a big fan of stereoscopic 3D and someone who has seen many 3D movies, it didn’t seem groundbreaking. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredible in places. Truly amazing and enthralling. But in other places it just almost got in the way. I absolutely love stereoscopic 3D, but there’s a time and a place. Some bits of the film like the floating mountain wideshots or the walking on the cliffside were greatly enhanced by the 3D. Other bits, however, were just obvious tricks to try to show off the 3D effect. Man sticking gun into screen and camera rotating round gun. Man putting golf ball and camera panning down to be almost hit by ball. These shots were just too obvious and only succeeded in reminding you that it was a movie that was trying to show off 3D. 3D is truly awesome for documentaries, music events and sport but I’m just not yet convinced its totally suitable for action films. Even James Cameron, with all his directorial experience and 3D research couldn’t get away from some basic 3D principles…

  • Every time you cut to another camera or scene, your brain needs to work out new depth perception. So when you keep cutting extremely quickly between camera angles it can be hard to keep up. It’s unnatural, and the whole point of 3D is to make the film more natural
  • When there are lots of things happening on screen, like in a dogfight, this gets even worse. Often it’s good to tone down the 3D effect for these sequences. I think this had to be done a few times in the film
  • If you’re protruding things out of the screen you need to be careful they don’t cross the border of the frame, otherwise the illusion is lost. Cameron for this reason has lots of sequences where the depth into the screen is highlighted (positive parallax), such as the view over the edge of the cliff, rather than objects protruding out of the screen (negative parallax). This works really effectively when done well
  • It’s best not to have subtitles if you can help it. It reminds the viewer there is a plane between them and the action
  • Focus-pulling really confuses the brain. This is one thing which let’s 3D down. If there is more than one thing happening on screen your brain assumes that it can focus your eyes on whichever one you look at as you do in real life. Obviously you can’t as it is up to the director and cameraman to control the focus and so once again you realise you’re watching a film and the 3D illusion is lost. Unfortunately James Cameron started the movie with precisely this faux pas in the first 20 seconds.

The 3D really does help to bring you into the film but I’m not convinced it makes the film a ‘game-changer’ in that regard. It doesn’t convince me that every film should be in 3D yet. There are too many things to have to be aware of which means that not every film will translate well to 3D and not every director will be willing to accommodate it. But it certainly does show that 3D is a stunning effect when used in the appropriate places. As mentioned earlier, however, this may be best for documentaries and sporting events.


One of the things that intrigued me most about this film was the remote avatar dynamic. It’s the thing after which the movie was named after all. It was also the only thing to really set the story apart from just being another remake of Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas. And yet for me it was the area that was least touched upon. The main character was paralyzed from the waist down but when his mind went into the body of the physical avatar he could leap around like an olympic athlete. He learns skills, makes friends, builds relationships in this other world. It’s not quite a virtual world as it does actually exist but his mind is merely projected remotely into the physical avatar. His ‘second life’ is completely dependant on the technoloy back in the base and if the plug is pulled on the technology link his physical avatar drops down lifeless. When his avatar and the rest of his new alien friends sleep he wakes in the real world and debriefs his superiors. But this was all just touched upon lightly as if it was a totally normal situation. So much more could have been made of the split personality and double life that this caused. How he became almost addicted to this other world, which gave him freedom in so many ways he couldn’t get in his real world. How it alienated him from his fellow humans.

This was one of the most interesting things for me from the film and I don’t feel it was fully addressed. In this day and age of people spending more and more of their lives in virtual worlds and social networks pretending to be someone they’re not I felt that this could have been a much bigger moral input to the plot. Maybe he’s saving some of that for the sequel. In stunning 4D Smell-o-vision I’m sure. This is a James Cameron film so you are just along for the ride. And what a ride it is.

Testing video

Just testing some video on the blog.

Augmented Reality

After attending a Flash developers’ night in London last week, and hearing James Alliban give a great speech about Augmented Reality, I am even more excited about this burgeoning technology.

What is Augmented Reality?
If you don’t know what it is, it is probably easier to show you than tell you. See below for some links. I assume most of you know what Virtual Reality is? It’s when you wear one of those lovely headsets and get fully immersed in a computer generated environment. I also assume you know what actual reality is? If not then you probably aren’t reading this and are bouncing off the walls in some mental hospital. Well, Augmented Reality is somewhere in between. It is actual reality with enhanced, overlaid graphics. A bit like The Terminator when he scans people and gets information about them.

What do I need to use it?
There are some very advanced ways to view Augmented Reality (AR) such as with headsets or even haptic interfaces, but at the moment the two main publicly available ways to use it are via a phone such as an iPhone or an Android device. The other way is via a webcam.

Example – Phone – Nearest Tube
When using a phone it allows to you wander around and essentially have a window into another world, receiving overlaid graphics about your surroundings. Acrossair’s app lets you walk around London and easily find the nearest Tube station.

Example – Webcam – N-Dubz
With a webcam version it’s much more about entertainment or new products on your deskstop or in the palm of your hand, because you’re not walking around. One example is that if you hold the latest N-Dubz CD inlay up to a webcam you suddenly see the band perform literally in the palm of your hand.

What potential uses are there for it?
How good is your imagination? Double it and add 1. Below are some great examples including automotive design and fashion. Other things I can think of include going to a haunted castle and when you hold up your phone it displays ghosts in front of you (a window into another world), a treasure hunt round a city where the clues are only visible in front of you through an Augmented Reality device, or perhaps going to Ground Zero in New York and seeing what the Twin Towers actually looked like when they were still standing. Needless to say there are already tremendous uses for this technology in the medical, construction and teaching professions.

Is it the death of the webpage?
No, but I think that many things which are currently done on websites will start switching to devices like this.

Have you got any other examples to blow my mind?
Of course…

iQ Toyota
GE Smart Grid
Red Bulletin
Ray Ban
Julian Perretta ‘Ride My Star’
Papervision wormhole
5 Gum Music Mixer
Tobi Virtual Dressing Room
AKQA Virtual Box

Watch this space…

CaT London

Creative people and technical people have not always worked well together. Often designers dream up blue sky designs that make the technologists twiddle their knobs in frustration. Alternatively, the technologists can build something incredibly advanced but which is neither attractive nor usable causing designers to pull their (well-groomed) hair out. Lately, however, these two different hemisphered skills have become much closer bedfellows. Much of this is aided by modular technologies or open APIs that allow people to easily manipulate functionality and add their own customisable design. People can have a foot in both camps. Coming from my Product Design Engineering background, and now my front end/back end web perspective, I was eager to attend the latest CaT event yesterday in London which showcases the best of creative technology from both perspectives.

The ‘Creativity and Technology’ one day conference was held in the Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road just off Sloane Square. A suitably artistic and creative venue. Unfortunately the technology did not match the ambience as the WiFi was playing up all day. A real shame at a conference like this, I have to say.

The lineup of presenters, however, did not disappoint at all. Speakers came from huge digital production and design agencies such The Mill, AKQA and Berg. Discussions came from topics such Augmented Reality, Latest online marketing campaigns and How Social Media is changing cities. The speakers’ accents came from such far flung places as London, New York, Ireland, Sweden and good old Glasgow.

Some very interesting uses of creative technology were demonstrated and discussed… Building games to help children learn about road safety. Augmented Reality to see the World Trade Center retrospecitvely in situ in New York. Removing choice for users to alleviate the stress of search. Observing that constants are now becoming variables in a world where every object has a data value which can be manipulated. Using music as a dynamic tool within a user-defined experience. And more.

Here are some excellent examples of the work that was showcased including video production, CGI, Flash 3D, Interactive sites and visualisations of multiple forms of information. Inspirational, one and all.

To be honest the day gave enough food for thought for me to write about 10 blog posts, so I will not attempt to try to squeeze them all into this one. What really hit me though was that the most interesting presentations were from those speakers who not only did not pigeonhole themselves into the creative or technologist camps but who also looked for inspiration from every aspect of life. They quoted literature and philosophy. They found perfect real-life analogies to explain very technical ideas. They, in a nutshell, showed us that ultimately it all comes down to awareness of human nature and the user experience. It’s not about the tools you use. It’s about the story.

Oh and I got to play about on a Microsoft Surface. Awesome technology. I’m already thinking of apps I would love to build for it. From both a creative and a technology perspective of course.