The popularity of using smartphones and the iPad to read often means that prose will be accompanied by video, animation, and sound. Ricoh Innovations, a unit of the electronics manufacturer focused on developing new technology products, has developed an app that will allow users who pick up a paper book to have access to rich multimedia content via their handheld device and links to that content placed on the printed page.
ICandymobile is an iPhone app (an Android version is in the works) that will do just that, said Jamey Graham, research engineer at the company. At the heart of iCandymobile, Graham said, is Ricoh's visual search technology, which finds links to multimedia content set in print and allows them to be replayed. Much like "augmented reality"—which, for example, would reveal available apartments when a user looks through a smartphone camera that is pointed at a building—visual search can detect and replay bar-coded multimedia content, or "hot spots," placed in print works.
Using an iPhone with the iCandymobile app, the user can take a picture of a page ("zapping" the page, Graham joked) that includes "hot spots" and then play content linked to that page through the iPhone. Graham said Ricoh's visual search technology will go a step beyond both one-dimensional bar codes (the familiar digital stripes found on packaging) or QR codes (squarish bar codes that can hold more data), both of which are too obtrusive to place in books. Ricoh's visual search technology can transform the actual pattern of text on a page into an unobtrusive link that will activate content either placed on the reader device or stored online. Not only can the technology put links to video and audio content directly into the text of a printed book, but the codes can then be tracked for data on who, where, and how many users scanned the codes.
Graham said Ricoh is in the process of meeting with book and magazine publishers in hopes of turning iCandymobile technology into a new business model. He said costs will vary depending on whether data is stored online in the cloud or on the device. But when content is stored "in the cloud," as it increasingly is, he said the cost "is negligible," noting that Amazon 3S, an online storage service, charges 15 cents per gigabyte per month.
"We think we can connect online media to physical books and magazines," said Graham, who stressed that the technology can be used in anything from newspapers to posters and travel guides to add supporting multimedia content. Ricoh has teamed with novelist Matt Stewart, author of the recently released novel The French Revolution (Soft Skull Press) and with the California Department of Motor Vehicles to put the technology to two very different uses.
Working with Stewart, Ricoh has taken his already quirky novel—The French Revolution was first released on Twitter in 2009, sentence by sentence, using 3,700 tweets—and made it even more unusual. A comic novel about a contemporary family in San Francisco, the print version of The French Revolution has been embedded with music, recipes, author interviews, history, a virtual tour, maps, and much more. Using the iCandymobile app, the user can zap any page in the novel and unlock an endless stream of supporting and entertaining content.
In the same way, working with the California DMV, Ricoh created DriveTube, an app that lets the user zap a page in the 2010 California driver's handbook and get videos illustrating everything from how to park to traffic lane markings and what they mean. Graham acknowledged that both the novel and the driver's handbook were experiments ("technical trials," he called them) to put iCandymobile and visual search technology on display.
"With our technology, publishers can add all kinds of online content to print works," Graham said. "We're talking to publishers right now, and we're getting good feedback. We're looking into turning this into a business model, and we need marketplace validation."