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Travel Technology

Tourism Tech: Can These Apps Help You Explore Your City?

We take a self-guided tour of Los Angeles in the company of a smartphone and a couple of apps, but something is missing. Could Web3 and AR make travel fun again?

Are we at the tail end of the app economy, especially when it comes to tourism? Do they make fiscal sense anymore (to build, maintain, or even buy) in the light of crowdsourced trip reviews, Live View on Google Maps, social media feeds, and nomad influencers roaming the world posting sunsets from remote spots?

After not seeing much of Los Angeles, my adopted city, during COVID, I wanted to explore it again with a fresh eye. Much has changed in the past few years; many businesses have shuttered or shifted to reduced staffing hours. But the tourists are flooding back to Southern California. How are they navigating the city today? To find out, I downloaded a few LA visitor apps and grabbed my Tap mass transit travel card. Here’s what happened.

GPSMyCity

While standing in Beverly Hills, opposite the famous City Hall, I jumped onto the free city Wi-Fi and downloaded GPSMyCity app

 from Google Play, allowing it to use GPS precise location while the app was in operation. I waited for it to triangulate satellite-based mapping data from 12,500 miles above my head, then suggest places to go. But it did not, seriously missing a trick. 

In the app’s menu, I saw a bunch of articles, including California Dreamin’—Things to Do in LA, The Ultimate Guide to Koreatown, and The Hidden Staircases of Silver Lake. But I was at least 6-8 miles away from any of those destinations. I typed “Beverly Hills” into the search function and got a full page ad for on-site robust internet connectivity. I tapped the X to close the ad and looked through fairly generic descriptions of the city—the same paragraphs you’d get in any short-form guide. 

Scrolling down, I saw “Boris Karloff’s Former Home,” clicked the red GO THERE rectangle and got a pop-up that said “The requested function is available only in the full version. A 3-day free trial is offered for you to test drive the app.” I uninstalled it, unimpressed. 

On a nearby stump, I saw a picture of Beverly Hills THEN and NOW with a QR code. I scanned it and watched a 2-minute video

 from the Beverly Hills Historical Society about the history of where I was standing. This was more like it. But I couldn’t see a map that would lead me from one QR code to the next, on a magical mystery style tour. I gave up and went home. 

Google Maps and AR

I wondered if apps just aren’t cutting it anymore. It’s hard to keep the content fresh, and accurate, without an in-house writing team, and there’s no business model behind that anymore, when $78.51 billion goes to mobile search. Are we meant to cobble together our own city-based guides, DIY-style, now? 

Sure, I use Google Maps all the time, and I noticed that the number of commercial pins has increased dramatically. Some of them are relevant, but a lot are not. But, for the purposes of this story, I clicked on Updates, which I usually ignore, and found “Latest in the area” content with content from local guides

There were several glowing reviews of a restaurant I’d not tried. Thanks to Google’s multitudinous feeds integration, I could scroll down and make a reservation, see the menu, find out when it’s busiest, and so on. This is okay, but it’s a laborious way to put together a self-directed itinerary for tourists. But things are looking up in that respect.

A 2022 post on Google Maps’ Immersive View

 describes how advances in computer vision and AI have led the tech giant to fuse together billions of Street View and aerial images to create a rich, digital model of the world. Live View is helpful, detailing when a business is open and how crowded transit routes are. Using the new ARCore Geospatial API, developers can layer on real-time augmented reality functionality to city-based content, wherever Street View is available. 

But it’s completely fragmented—there’s no editorial vision or accuracy to the verbiage itself. I guess this is due to the nature of today’s internet. No one is in charge (not even Elon). But it doesn’t make for a cohesive take on a city for tourists or locals. 

You can read the original article here.

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