Back in August, I got my first taste of augmented reality (AR) courtesy of Yelp’s easter egg. The iPhone version of this location based application combines geographical data with a camera to show nearby points of interest in the virtual view. The experience proved to me that I’m not ready for augmented reality just yet — I live too far from everything and the method was more cumbersome than good old search. And the second point is was the killer for me. But there is plenty of potential here and when taking that into account, I’m looking forward to improved augmented reality experiences.
How might that happen? The AR approach has to add more value and be easier to use than a currently available situation for me to use it. Since I can use any modern mapping app to find static locations nearby, the Yelp implementation isn’t something I’d use often. But user generated content might be appealing, provided it comes from a broad base of UGC platforms. I’d also like to get a virtual view of other data layers that change a little more often than brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Colin Gibbs envisions similar augmented reality opportunities in his recent GigaOM Pro report (subscription required). Since I’ve only had a cursory experience with AR, it was interesting to hear about other current solutions, future plans and challenges the AR experience faces. The most impressive one Colin mentioned was Layar for the Android platform. Like Yelp, it uses the camera to “see” your reality and then adds virtual layers of information to the view. This video demonstration impressed me enough to install the app on a G1 handset. In the demo, Layar is used in a neighborhood to show which homes are for sale, info about the home and a hot link to call the realtor. And that’s just one of many data layers available in the app: Wikipedia, Twitter, Flickr and plenty more can be layered into your reality.
What makes this all work is the smartphones of today, Colin notes. The devices have virtually been enterprise-centric until recent years, but now feature phones are on the decline and smartphones are the future kings. Processing power has increased at the same time that wireless broadband has expanded in coverage and speed. Combined with massive amounts of useful data, the smartphone of today just might be my window into the world of tomorrow — both real and virtual.
Care to share any augmented reality experiences or have any other AR apps for me to look at?