Live-feed video stream apps such as Meerkat and Periscope have stirred up market

Meerkat enables you to broadcast a live video stream from a smart phone or tablet camera

Three years ago this month, Google publicly announced its "Glass" project. It was the company's first foray into wearable consumer devices, and offered futuristic eyeglasses that looked like a Star Trek prop. As light as a pair of sunglasses, these overlaid the normal field of view through the glasses with computer-generated text and graphics, visible only to the wearer. Military uses of similar "head-up displays" are common, particularly in military aviation: the Glass product was the first time that such capabilities had been offered widespread to consumers.

Then three months ago, Google announced that further public access to its Glass prototype would cease, at least for the time being.

While the company remained committed to internal research and development of the project, Glass was retired from public access, chiefly in response to disquiet relating to privacy.

There were concerns that a Glass wearer could use face-recognition software to identify strangers; to surreptitiously video record perspectives seen by the wearer; to be used as a spy gadget; or even be used at gambling tables to guide betting. Some Glass wearers had the product snatched from their face while walking the street, a few were physically assaulted for wearing them in bars, and at least one was fined by police for using Glass while driving.


Despite the demise of Glass, overlaying text and graphics on to the field of view while maintaining perspective is nevertheless becoming common in business applications.

The most obvious demonstration to the general public of “augmented reality” technology is sports ball flight-tracking systems, such as Hawk-Eye, commonly used in international tennis, cricket, baseball, soccer and American football broadcasts.

Hawk-Eye on Croke Park

Here, the GAA has been testing Hawk-Eye at Croke Park. More complex situations arise in commercial engineering maintenance – for example of vehicle engines or of aviation systems – where augmented reality can replace voluminous paper manuals.

A tablet computer cannot only lay out sequences of actions to be carried out for a particular task, but also uses the tablet computer’s camera to highlight particular components on the screen, overlaid on top of the live camera display of the engine or subsystem.

One particularly interesting example has been built by the German company Metaio, in which the Ikea flat-pack furniture catalogue has been captured in augmented reality. Atlantic Bridge, where I am a partner on a part-time basis, has an investment in Metaio.

Using the live camera on your tablet computer or smartphone, you can see what a specific Ikea product would look like if you purchased it and placed it in one of your own rooms in your house.

“One picture is worth a thousand words” is an old adage. The ability to see what a given product looks like in perspective and within the context of familiar surroundings is worth more than a flat image taken in a professional studio and printed in a large catalogue alongside a word description. Video can be even more impactful.

Last month a new app, Meerkat, rapidly gained popularity particularly among Twitter users. Promoted at the South by SouthWest interactive (SxSWi) festival in Austin, Texas, the app enables anyone to broadcast a live video stream from their smart phone or tablet camera (currently Apple devices only), which anyone else anywhere (with a suitable broadband connection) can then watch live on their device.

Trivial examples abound such as cute pet animals and breakfast conversations after the night before, but also examples such as sports events and extreme sports rides. The quality is frequently mediocre, but the fact that a video stream is not being professionally produced arguably gives it a veracity and legitimacy of its own. Meerkat rapidly raised $14 million in investment from various illustrious sources by last week.

However, almost immediately, Twitter then released Periscope, a rival new app with similar capabilities to Meerkat. Further, Twitter proceeded to cut off Meerkat at the knees by prohibiting Meerkat discovering which of each user’s Twitter followers are fellow Meerkat users. “Periscope” may be a dubious name – given its military and espionage overtones, and given the public reception to Google Glass – but, nevertheless, Periscope has very rapidly overtaken Meerkat in downloads, possibly leaving a sour taste with some otherwise savvy investors in their rush to invest into Meerkat.

Tailored clips

While the public has started playing with live video feeds, commercial use of video clips may be coming to the fore, particularly for personalised advice and explanations.

As an example, Hyundai Ireland are trialing the impact of sending short (60-90 second) video clips personalised by a senior mechanic to each customer – by text message alert or email – who has sent their car in for repairs or maintenance.

Each clip for each customer explains and shows on video what has been found wrong on their own car, what needs to be immediately fixed and what might need attention in due course.

Similar short personalised video clips can also be produced by sales staff, showing the recipient around a particular car in which they may have expressed an interest perhaps by email or by phone, particularly for used cars. Because the video clips are personalised – the customer is addressed by name – and despite not being professionally produced, they still carry the legitimacy of the brand and of the obvious competence of experienced staff, in reaching directly to each customer.

Such personalised video clips may become a common tool for online sales. Retail outlets that take the effort to produce a short video clip tailored specifically in response to each online enquiry, particularly for relatively complex products (such as kitchen equipment, home entertainment systems and luxury items), may lead to increased loyalty and higher face-to-face contact in the physical store.