Layar + iPhone = Cool


Layar has a smart way of displaying tags without cluttering the screen (too much).

Probably the most progressive and most watched of the geospatial augmented reality developers out there is Layar. Their Android version provoked a lot of interest and they have now released their iPhone app. It’s a free program and appears to be available worldwide (although some of the content is limited).

The most interesting thing about Layar is that they have opened their platform to other developers to provide “Layars” of content. Each Layar can have a unique look and feel… for instance, the Wikipedia Layar shows tags as the Wikipedia “W” until they are highlighted at which point they become the Wikipedia “globe”. Whilst many of the Layars are fascinating, unfortunately there is very little data available in New Zealand so I wasn’t able to try them out.

One thing I do like about Layar is the free text Google search. Searching for “computer service” came up with about 20 hits within 1km of me and rotating to select different tags is the easiest of the video overlay type apps I have tried. Layar have cleverly avoided the necessity to hold the phone over your head to see further away hits (a la acrossair) by positioning the tags on a grid representing distance. Also, rather than trying to display all of the information in the tag on the overlay, Layar draws a line to the bottom of the screen and references the info there. This allows a far more comfortable user experience.

Battery usage and heat are big issues with video overlay type AR apps on the iPhone, and Layar is no exception. You can choose a map or list view but that displays 360 degree hits so you lose the pointing functionality. It also doesn’t bookmark the last place you were at in the app… so if you get map directions, then reopen Layar, you have to navigate back to the place you left off. GeoVector World Surfer is superior in both these aspects.

There are a couple of Twitter Layars and I must admit that it feels a little voyeristic to view tweets from people based on them being nearby… but I suspect that the social media aspect of AR will be a big development in the future.

I’d strongly recommend Layar to any iPhone 3GS users out there. As a party peice you’ll get plenty of “ooohs” and “ahhhs”. There’s still a lot of room for improvement in the AR sphere, but this a good start… and it definitely has the “Cool” factor.

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