Life Through a Nokia City Lens

Meetings can be a chore. But if your afternoon’s engagements are suddenly cancelled at the last minute, leaving you with five hours to kill before your train home, that can be a chore too. This is exactly what happened to me a couple of months ago on a business trip to Nottingham.

Having never been to Nottingham before I decided to see where a short wander would take me, although with a slight worry of ending up in the middle of Sherwood Forest. Luckily for me, the forest was sufficiently out-of-town for me not to have to worry about being ambushed by Merry Men. But the conundrum of how to find something to fill my afternoon still remained.

Getting to grips with Augmented Reality

As the owner of a Windows Phone, I’d heard the chatter surrounding Nokia City Lens, but never had the curiosity to use it. I’m the kind of person who likes to decide their trips and destinations in advance. I have countless location-based apps on my phone, but they’re all based on browsing for what I want ahead of time, and navigating to it. I rarely have the luxury of wandering with no fixed agenda, browsing what’s available in my field of vision. But that had suddenly changed.

For those unfamiliar with Nokia City Lens, it’s an Augmented Reality app that uses your handset’s camera display. Augmented Reality is the term used when virtual imagery is superimposed over a view of the real-world. In this instance, your Nokia handset uses Location-Based Services to determine your position through your handset’s GPS. It then overlays the scenery with information tiles, informing you of the stores, restaurants, and points of interest that are within sight, but perhaps not always noticeable. It’s a very high high-tech process for a deceptively simple result.

Seeing what you want to see

Upon downloading the app, it did appear far from simple however. The first thing I noticed was how busy the scenery was. However, a quick change of settings to the Sightline option filtered down the notifications to just places immediately within my field of vision. This made Nottingham town centre a lot easier to navigate.

It’s a surprisingly fun app to use, although walking around with your handset at arm’s length, viewing life through your screen, can present its own hazards. One gentleman in particular thought I was trying to take his photograph, and scuttled away scowling and grumbling at me. It took me a couple of minutes of playing with the app to notice that there’s a solution to this too; a quick tap of the screen will freeze the image. This allows you to survey your options in a more comfortable position, without holding your handset at arm’s length the whole time. Perfect for not looking like a creepy paparazzo.

Finding the perfect spot

Although you may get some questionable looks, it’s hard to argue with the technology. Fancying a quick bite to eat, I easily noticed a quaint sandwich café that I would have otherwise missed. I was given the option to call in advance to make a reservation, but for a tuna baguette, it seemed like overkill.

Wandering further still, I decided to see what I was missing, and so disabled the Sightline function. Instantly, my screen returned to its busy state, but I was able to see through the current row of buildings to what was on the next block. A cinema! I was in luck. Heading towards the multiplex in question, I found it snuggled inside a building called The Cornerhouse. I realised I’d already walked passed it once and dismissed it as just a restaurant complex. My joy was further heightened as I ascended the escalators to the box office and noticed that the cinema contained an IMAX.

The perfect company

As I got comfy with my drinks and popcorn, readying myself to watch giant robots pound each other senseless for the afternoon, the reminder flashed up to turn off my mobile phone. I felt slightly rude silencing the artificial companion who had helped me this far, but it was time to see what Optimus Prime, my new artificial companion, had to say. As it turned out, Nokia City Lens was the more useful of the two, but Optimus was better at smashing things. Next time I have an afternoon to kill, I know which one I’d rather have in my pocket.