Google’s Niantic Labs project, headed by former Google Local/Maps chieftain John Hanke, has just released its first mobile app: Field Trip. Currently it’s only available for Android but an iOS version is coming soon.
In short it’s a customizable “local discovery engine” that runs in the background on your smartphone (or connected tablet, though it’s not intended for tablets) and notifies you when you’re near something interesting — across a wide range of categories. Categories include: history and architecture, places and events, lifestyle, offers and deals, food, “cool and unique” and outdoor art.
The app is not “utilitarian” in the way that Google’s Local app or Maps are. And although many might see it this way, it’s not intended to compete with Foursquare.
It’s not a “local search” app. In fact there’s no formal “search” capability, although you can see locations and information on a map. It’s also not intended for planning ahead. It’s really for discovering things that are nearby and around you according to John Hanke.
Hanke told me that “search” wasn’t included because he felt there were lots of ways users could do local or map-based searches currently. Here’s Google’s description of the app and how it works:
Field Trip is your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you. Field Trip runs in the background on your phone. When you get close to something interesting, it pops up a card with details about the location. No click is required. If you have a headset or bluetooth connected, it can even read the info to you.
Hanke described the app to me as a kind of “publishing platform for geo-content.” At launch content sources include Arcadia, Thrillist, Food Network, Zagat, Eater, Sunset, Cool Hunting, WeHeart, Inhabitat, Remodelista, Atlas Obscura, Daily Secret, Songkick and Flavorpill. More publishers will be added over time. However, Hanke added that Google will be selective about partners to try and maintain the quality of the content.
The places and information from these sources are geotagged and will “pop up on your phone automatically” as you walk or drive by the locations and venues. Users can indicate thumbs up or down to “rate” places. They can also share information on Google+, Twitter and Facebook via the app.
Users can explicitly customize the content they want and over time, Hanke told me, there will be a higher degree of personalization as people interact with the app and its content.
Hanke said that Field Trip is different than other location-based apps because, “It has myriad voices and you can choose the ones best suited to you.” He also explained that all the information is very fresh because the third party sites and publishers are continuously updating their content.
There’s no advertising, though the app does contain promotional deals and offers from Google Offers and Vayable. Rather than a monetization scheme Hanke said this was helpful and “cool” information for users. Google is promoting the app with events in six cities this Saturday: Field Trip day.
Watch the video below. It’s the only Google product-launch related video that I’ve ever seen that could trigger a mid-life crisis.