We've already got smartphones with GPS radios, data connections and mapping software that can tell us where we're supposed to go. Why on earth would we need additional smart devices in the world to help us get around? Quite simply because sometimes the smart gadgets in our pockets aren't hip to what we want to know -- or at least they don't have the right information right when we need it most.
Hoping to bridge the user experience gap, design firm Breakfast has created a new signage system called "Points", which can be programmed to display a variety of information to people. (You'll remember Breakfast as the New York-based consultancy behind the amazing Instaprint.)
In its most basic application, Points works like the arrows you'd find at ye olde fork in the road -- except SMARTER. It's a signpost with three arrow-shaped LCD displays at the top. The sign can either reveal details about information you've requested from it using a button panel, or it can show you pre-programmed info that's relevant to the location where the way-finder is installed. More than just info displays, the arrows can swivel around the posts to indicate the direction to destinations.
That's a simplification of the potential for this location- and context-aware gadget. In the video above, Breakfast proposes all sorts of applications for the Points signage that might seem "more advanced" than just pointing you in the right direction. It can point to tweets! Look at all these Foursquare checkins!
But really, what we're interested in is Points' simple ability to convey hyperlocal, near-spontaneous information in situations where a smartphone might not be all that helpful.
You see, it's not always easy to get accurate, real-time information about your exact location. Or if you can, the information on your phone might not be all that useful. Take for example a summer music festival. Who's playing where? You might have an app with a map, but what you really want is a perfectly labelled signpost that points you in the right direction at the right time. Turns out that's exactly what Points is capable of.
And there are a lot of situations where your phone isn't all that helpful for getting the information you want, which might be precisely when you need help the most.
In fact, that's one of the best justifications for the seemingly absurd touchscreens being installed in New York City subway stations starting this summer. It's very hard to get information underground where Internet connections are non-existent -- let alone information that's responsive to dynamic situations like service disruptions.
Currently, Breakfast has launched Points as a product that you can rent for special events, but the company says that it plans to roll out a version of the product that companies can buy down the line. [Breakfast]