For IPhone Users, Augmented Reality Now Within Sight

Media Morph: Layar

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Layar
WHAT IT IS: A mobile app for Android phones that overlays geo-tagged information on real-time mobile video using augmented reality. (If you're still struggling to understand AR, it's essentially a catch-all term for where real-world and virtual or digital data interact.)

This is different from early AR experiments by the likes of GE and Best Buy, which involved activating interactive holograms via webcams. Layar users look at their surroundings through their phone's video camera and see links, photos or text projected over specific locations around them. The info may be culled from Flickr, Wikipedia, Twitter, Yelp or Trulia. For example, you can open the FlickAR layer to see photos taken in your location or open the Trulia layer to see which houses are for sale.

WHO CAN USE IT: Any developer can build Layar information layers, which are subject to approval, for free. For now, only Android phones support the app, but Apple's expected update for the iPhone 3GS operating system in September will allow for AR browsing on that device. Layar plans to release a 3GS AR browser once the update comes through.

THE NUMBERS: Layar has been downloaded as many as 50,000 times since last week's global launch, said co-founder Maarten Lens-FitzGerald. There are 68 layers available globally for things such as store locations, transit info, tourist guides and Mazda dealers, with 110 more in development.

THE FUTURE: "There are already local directories like Google Local search," Mr. Lens-FitzGerald said. "But with Layar, you can supply services based on that customer at that moment. Layar allows for context-aware services, because the phone has sensors of where that person is, who that person is, what kind of weather there is. It's not just about finding people; it's about providing a service that's context-aware. [Consumers] found you; how can you help them right now?"

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