Frontiers

Future Tool: Local Search Up Close By Shankar Gupta There are a lot of things that determine whether a mapping function is useful: Ease of use, the number of addresses mapped, whether it incorporates directions. But the most important element of an online mapping site  especially if it incorporates photos or satellite imaging  is whether or not I can see my house. Amazon's A9 local search has that angle covered. On its face, A9's local search is simply a Yellow Pages site with listings for businesses across America. However, for those of us lucky enough to live in major metropolitan areas  Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Manhattan, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco  it also includes a feature called Block View, which incorporates photographs of every business address listed and most of the addresses in between. Using A9 to find the door to my apartment was as simple as searching for the Suds Café, my local laundromat, and then clicking "walk left" just a few doors down. The individual photos generally capture about one store or home front. Amazon's staff has driven tens of thousands of miles in specially equipped trucks that snapped digital photos as they went. The result is a block-by-block, photo-by-photo mosaic of the aforementioned cityscapes. Because the photography was automated as the truck rolled along, some of the pictures aren't quite perfect. In Manhattan, omnipresent delivery trucks can obscure entire storefronts, and a few aggressive New York pedestrians crossing against the light are immortalized in Block View's photos. Of course, beyond the endless entertainment that can be had wandering around this virtual reproduction of your neighborhood and stomping grounds, A9 has actual utility as well. Armed with only an address scrawled down on a piece of scrap paper, it can be hard to find your destination. A9's Block View acts like a savvy neighborhood denizen, informing you that your query is right between a brownstone apartment and that bar on the corner with the 2-for-1 margaritas sign in the window. You know the one. Wireless: Hispanic Mobile By Gavin O'Malley Quick! Pop quiz: What's the largest minority in the United States? Hispanics, right? Since 2002, this demographic has held that title, but marketers and the media have been slow to accommodate the needs of this diverse and growing population. Their influence is everywhere, both culturally and economically: Hispanics controlled over $575 billion in spending power in 2003, with an average household buying power of $46,200, according to global research company Synovate. Continued immigration and the rapid growth of the U.S.-born Hispanic population promises that buying power has nowhere to go, but up. A new Miami-based wireless service provider, Movida Communications Inc., is targeting Hispanic Americans through a new Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) agreement with Sprint. The company plans to sell Movida-branded handsets and prepaid wireless minute cards in Wal-Mart stores, as well as select retail locations throughout the United States. Movida doesn't actually own a network. It operates by buying calling minutes from carriers like Sprint and selling them. John Garcia, senior vice president of sales and distribution at Sprint, says his company's relationship with Movida is consistent with its MVNO strategy of working with complementary resellers who plan to tap underserved wireless segments like the Hispanic community. More than 90 percent of Latin American wireless business comes from pay-as-you-go services, according to Movida. Following its initial launch, Movida says it plans to offer features and services "both culturally and geographically relevant to Hispanic consumers," many of which it says will be provided through its relationship with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Cisneros Group, its primary investor. No major telecommunications provider has ever tapped the rapidly growing U.S. Hispanic market, according to Steven Bandel, Cisneros Group president and chief operating officer. "Movida is about understanding Hispanic consumers and offering them products and services that help them stay connected, both with their friends and family, as well as their culture," says company president Anthony Montoya. Wireless: YellowPepper Names That Tune By Shankar Gupta What's the name of that song? It starts out like "My baby, something-something," and then there's a part about shaking it like a Polaroid picture. What's it called? I just heard it yesterday. If you're hip, you probably never have conversations like that one. For the rest of us, there's music recognition technology so your cell phone can stand in for your non-existent knowledge of contemporary music. One provider of such technology is YellowPepper. If you're out and about, and the DJ starts playing a song that gets your toe tapping, but you have no idea who plays it or what it's called, you can ping YellowPepper's music recognition number: 416-548-9247, and hold your cell towards the source of the music. YellowPepper's service then creates a digital fingerprint of the song, and compares it to every song in its database of 2.3 million titles. According to a company spokeswoman, the service has an above average success rate in matching songs. In just a bit, you get a text message back, indicating the song title and the artist who performed it. Then you get to buy stuff. If there's a ring tone on file for that song, you can download it, and if there's cell phone wallpaper of the band or artists, you can download that too. YellowPepper plans to make deals to sell more through this service. According to Carol Erickson, chief technology officer, once YellowPepper is able to develop better digital rights management technology, it will be able to sell MP3s of the songs through this service as well. One drawback is the price tag. It costs $1.99 per use, which is far more than the cost of flagging down a bartender and asking the name of the song that's playing, or turning to the cute blonde next to you and asking her. Plus, the system can take as long as 30 seconds to get as much of the song as it needs to make a match. Standing around pointing your phone at a stereo system for 30 seconds is probably even more unhip than displaying one's musical ignorance. On the other hand, you don't have to sign up for anything: The price of the service is charged directly to your phone bill. If you're finding yourself in need of a musical bail-out often enough, you can sign up for a fixed monthly rate  usually around $7.99 per month  but that doesn't cover the cost of the ring tones or wallpapers, which generally run another $1.99 apiece. So, for a couple of bucks per month, you could never again have to worry about not being able to figure out that the Polaroid picture song is actually called "Hey-Ya," by Outkast. But you already knew that, right? Future Tool: Biometrics By Dacia Ray Thales Fund Management in lower Manhattan scans employees' and visitors' eyeballs before an automated voice tells the person whether or not they have been identified and will allow them to pass. Think this is referencing an upcoming sci-fi flick? Think again. The future of biometrics, from fingerprints to retina scans, is here, and most likely in use at a grocery store near you, as punch clocks are being replaced with fingerprint-verified systems. Along those lines, image-recognition software is being developed by a Santa Monica, Calif.-based company called Neven Vision. The company has partnered with Vodafone Japan and NTT DoCoMo to offer wireless video-messaging software. In addition, Vodafone currently offers MovieMask, a feature that recognizes changing expressions and adds special effects to the face of the camera as you look at it. Several European cell phone carriers plan to make it a standard feature in 2006. But Neven Vision doesn't stop here. The company plans to create the new Google. No, it's not a series of algorithms that search the World Wide Web; it's a search platform for phonecam users. The company's facial recognition software can be modified to identify anything users experience in the real world, not the virtual one. At a loss as to what that genus of orchid you've found at the botanical gardens is? Snap a photo and have it identified in the time it takes to Google your name; the system's analysis algorithms can identify anything from a caterpillar to a teapot to the Eiffel Tower. Farther down the road, the device could serve as a mobile travel guide and a ripe medium for advertisement. Let's say you're taking a walk around the Seattle Center and stumble upon the Experience Music Project. Snap a photo with your camera phone, implement the software, and it might tell you that the building was designed by Frank Gehry, offer a $5 coupon courtesy of Pepsi, and let you purchase tickets via Ticketmaster. It could even tell you all this in Chinese. The company hopes to use the technology to authenticate purchases made via cell phones. It's developing a security application that will employ facial features, skin texture, and iris patterns to identify the purchaser. So, the next time you pass an ad for a new flick you've been dying to see, simply scan in the movie poster ad, press purchase, and authenticate, biometrically.
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