Messaging gets a virtual reality twist with new app Traces

The day has arrived, perhaps sooner than you’d predict: The messaging craze has gotten its own virtual reality upgrade. And no, it’s not some weird birth child out of the Facebook-Oculus Rift lab.
Not content to compete with the simple sharing of the Snapchats and the WhatsApps, British neuroscientist Dr. Beau Lotto conceived of Traces. It’s an interactive app where users can only see notes from their friends when they’re standing in a particular place. Geolocation meets messaging meets augmented reality meets tech brains everywhere exploding.
If you can get over the Silicon Valley-ness of the whole concept, the app is a window into marketing and communication in the future, and perhaps has something to do with Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift. It’s also just really cool.
Users select a contact, then add whatever media they want to their message. That can be a piece of music, text, a gift like a ticket to a concert, a video clip, or a coupon. Then they choose a location by dropping a pin into a map, similar to the way you’d summon an Uber. They decide how long to leave the trace – an hour, a week, a day, a month – before “placing” the trace.
The recipient gets an app notification, and when they go to the specified location and hold up their phone, they’ll see a clear virtual reality droplet hovering in the air. Aligning the phone with the droplet lets them burst the droplet, “unlock” the message, and view or listen to its components.

Traces' virtual reality water droplet. Pop it to see your message.

Traces’ virtual reality water droplet. Pop it to see your message.

It sounds like a lot of work. But it could be used for special occasions — emotional or nostalgic sharing. As the New Scientist pointed out, you could leave a song for your significant other in the place you first met, or a birthday gift for your best friend at the bar where she’s having her party.
Of course, you could also leave a Trace for yourself, making it a little easier to find your car in a big parking lot. Just hold up your phone and look for the droplet.
Presuming there ever comes a day when we’re not humiliated to be wearing Google Glass, Traces would be a little easier to use. Then you’d be walking down the street and droplets left by friends would appear in your eyesight without you having to fiddle with your phone. If you know someone frequents a particular lunch spot or walks a certain path to work, you could leave them surprise notes to brighten their day.
Aside from being a creative twist on messaging that isn’t just another ephemeral app, Traces shows how the virtual reality dimension could introduce new forms of communication and advertising. It’s a big opportunity for businesses.
Messaging would be far easier to monetize with a virtual reality element. For example, retail companies could send texts to a messaging app’s users that require you to be inside a store location to unlock a special deal.
God it sounds terrible. On second thought, let that day never arrive.
For American advertisers and messaging aficionados, you’ll have to wait for Traces to come to the US iOS store. It’s only available in beta in England for now.