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Mobiles bridge physical and digital worlds

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Darren Waters 27 Feb 08, 00:41 GMT What sort of company is Nokia? What do you think of first when you hear the name?

Mobile phones? Handsets? Devices? Hardware?

Does it surprise you to learn that Nokia is responsible for the world's largest computing platform? That with 17 phones sold every second the Finnish firm is bigger than Microsoft, bigger than Linux and arguably more influential than Google.

I visited Nokia's scientists and researchers at their lab in Palo Alto to talk about the future of mobile phones in three, five and eight years, and also beyond that.

The first thing to highlight is the fact no-one at Nokia calls the devices phones anymore; they are multimedia computers.

I was shown three projects being developed at Nokia's labs around the world, two of them in Palo Alto.

Augmented reality

Mobile phones offer a bridge between the physical and the digital world. I was shown technology that is able to understand the decipher the real world and augment it with data from the digital world.

What a decade ago required a backpack full of equipment can be done today using just a phone.

Dr Kari Pulli and his team at Palo Alto demonstrated software which can pull information from the web about a location, such as a building, just by taking a photograph of it.

It works by utilising the GPS in a phone so the software knows where the picture was taken and can then fetch relevant information about that location, rather then having to trawl through the entire web.

The software s the photograph's properties and then matches it to likely subjects in the database.

In the example I was shown, a photograph taken of a local church in Stanford pulled up historical information for the user.

The applications for this sort of augmented reality are huge - from mapping and tourist information, to being able to give directions based on landmarks rather than road names and numbers.

You could use your phone to get information on almost any kind of consumer product - from CD covers, to movie posters and even wine in a local shop; simply snap a picture of the wine label and your phone could pull up reviews and sampling information.

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