Are 3D Cities the Next Horizon in Local Search? Part II

In the worlds of local search and navigation, 3D mapping has perpetually been on the horizon. We’ve seen various flavors of 3D novelty over the years such as Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D and of course Google Earth and Street View. These have each scratched the 3D itch in various ways. But we haven’t found the holy grail.

Speaking of Google Earth, its VR edition is an immersive dive into 3D cities around the world. But its biggest advantage is also its drawback: VR. The addressable market is only so big, due to a finite hardware installed base that’s only about 14 million units globally. That compares with about 3.5 billion global smartphones.

More recently, as we examined, Here Technologies has jumped on the 3D mapping train with a developer platform for building immersive 3D maps. Possible outcomes include everything from consumer-facing local search apps to enterprise property management to municipal planning.

Are 3D Cities the Next Horizon in Local Search?

The Plot Thickens

All of this took a step forward this week — including an additional social twist — with the launch of Realworld. The multi-user immersive mapping application is built for VR headsets and brings users into 3D city renderings to interact with each other and public physical spaces (see video below).

This includes the ability to transport to and examine cityscapes in 3D. Users can scale the graphics up and down dynamically to see different zoom levels or angles of any street or building. Use cases include education (think: virtual field trips), social meetups, and local search & discovery.

The latter is where the rubber meets the road for potential monetization, such as overlaying a place database to infuse business details, store reviews, etc. This could be a future endpoint and area of new growth for location and places datasets from companies like Foursquare.

Meanwhile, users can annotate 3D maps, or import their own 3D models. To pull this off, Realworld pulls in mapping data from Bing Maps. In fact, the 3D data sets in Bing Maps are a descendent of the Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D tool mentioned above and examined in Part I of this series.

One Eye on the Horizon

Back to an earlier point, VR has a reach disadvantaged as a platform. But Realworld could have an edge over prior VR mapping plays. Google Earth VR isn’t multiplayer and is only available on “tethered” PC VR such as HTC Vive. Realworld will play on the much more popular Oculus Quest 2.

Speaking of Oculus Quest 2, it also has hand tracking as a controller input, which is shown in the video above. This sort of “agency” while in VR makes the experience that much more immersive. Moreover, it makes it more user-friendly, which is what VR needs to attract more average consumers.

When it does, virtual mapping could be a potential VR killer app, given that it has the ingredients of fun, utility and social interaction. The next evolution in VR as it penetrates further into the mainstream will be just that: expanding beyond gaming to more broadly-appealing experiences.

Meanwhile, Realworld is available in beta with a full rollout coming soon. We’ll be watching to see if this has any real impact on the worlds of local search and commerce. It could take a while for that to happen, but it’s always useful to keep one eye on the horizon and be ready when it does.

Tech Vision is Localogy’s series that spotlights emerging tech. Running semi-weekly, it reports on new technologies that Localogy analysts track, including strategic implications for local commerce. 

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