Augmented Reality App Sekai Camera Goes Multi-Platform. Adds API And Social Gaming.

Tokyo-based Tonchidot has come a long way since the spectacular launch of its augmented reality app Sekai Camera at TechCrunch50 back in 2008. We’ve spent quite a few articles on how the startup did since then, and the bottom line is that it did very well so far. Tonchidot is now offering up a lot more versions and features for its app (available for free on the iPhone with iOS4 support, iPad, and Android).

Here’s a quick rundown of what happened in the past few months and what more we can expect from Sekai Camera in the future.

To recap, Sekai Camera makes it possible to create text messages, photos, and audio recordings (dubbed air tags) and “drop” them on the spot in the form of floating bubbles and icons. Other users in the vicinity who open the app and spin the camera around can then click on and interact with those geo-tagged virtual Post-It notes. Sekai Camera is essentially a flashy-looking, location-based, augmented reality-powered social network.

Sekai Camera so far

Tonchidot’s presentation at TechCrunch 50 in 2008 has since become legend, but at that time, the performance left some people skeptical about the product itself (on stage, Sekai Camera was mainly presented in the form of a video). But Tonchidot CEO Iguchi proved all skeptics wrong by presenting an early version working on an iPhone in February 2009.

Sekai Camera eventually became available in the Japanese App Store in September 2009, spreading like wildfire among Japanese iPhone users, before it launched globally in December last year. In the same month, Tonchidot raised a $4 million series A and was nominated as “Best Mobile App” at the Crunchies Awards 2009, to name just a few things that happened last year.

Sekai Camera in 2010 and beyond: API, iPad and Android versions, iPhone update, Sekai Apps

Tonchidot currently seems to be in overdrive mode. In March this year, Tonchidot introduced OpenAir, a Sekai Camera API that makes it possible for third parties to deliver content within Sekai Camera. Here’s a list that shows the first batch of content providers (these are Japanese companies only, but the API is available worldwide).

According to Tonchidot, Sekai Camera now boasts well over one million users worldwide, and the number is poised to grow soon. In May, Sekai Camera for the iPad came out (yes, augmented reality on the camera-less iPad/screenshot below). The iPad-optimized app (obviously) can’t deliver the full experience but allows you to “visit” cities around the world and view and create air tags that other iPad and iPhone users can interact with.

And just a few days ago, Tonchidot released Sekai Camera on the Android Market (screenshot below) That version offers a couple of Android-exclusive features and is available in 47 different countries. ISO 1, an Android smartbook made by Sharp for the Japanese market, just went on sale and comes with Sekai Camera pre-installed.

But Sekai Camera version 2.4.1 for iPhone is probably the most relevant for most existing users. The update, which hit the App Store just today, comes with iOS4 support and push notification.

But perhaps most importantly, it features the first game that works within the Sekai Camera ecosystem. Tonchidot says that the title, a casual game called “KA-BOOM” (screenshots below), is just the first in a series of “Sekai Apps” that will be launched in the near future. The basic idea is to roll out games that combine mobile, location, augmented reality and social elements within Sekai Camera. Augmented reality-based gaming is something that has the potential to become huge and that no other company has ventured into on this scale. Tonchidot calls this concept “SoLAR” gaming and has already signed on a number of Japanese gaming firms that will deliver more content in the coming weeks.

And Tonchidot is cooking up even more stuff. For example, CEO Iguchi told me that

  • Sekai Camera will go to the web soon (users will be able to see air tags and connect Sekai Camera to other social networks through a web service)
  • a new funding round will likely be announced in the coming weeks
  • Tonchidot is thinking about opening offices in the US and Singapore (the company is currently searching for good candidates)

We’ll keep you posted.