Late Wednesday, augmented reality (subscription required) app Layar finally hit the App Store. It received a lot of buzz early on in the days of AR on mobile devices, and was released long ago for devices running Google’s Android OS.
The idea behind the browser is that multiple points of interest (POI) are displayed on top of a live feed from your camera. The POI information is drawn from multiple sources, which you can select from using the the menu at the bottom of the app. Each source provides different kinds of information, about transit, for instance, or about general tourist destinations, etc.
Fast Company can barely contain its enthusiasm for the new app, as is evident from the following quote:
The marriage between useful/fun/vital/helpful location-based data offered by Layar, the GPS and digital compass built into the iPhone 3GS (a 3G version is coming, Layar promises), and the legion of developers building new code for the platform give it a good shot at becoming the most popular AR browser on the market, if not a genuine killer app. Especially since it’s free.
While I admit that AR and its various applications are fairly exciting, and something that I’ve keyed in on in the past, I can’t seem to bring myself to apply the term “killer app” to this particular offering from Layar (subscription required). Not that it doesn’t do what it claims to. It does, and it does so for free, as Fast Company points out.
My problem is that it does it without much grace, or flair, or without anything to make it feel particularly well-suited to the iPhone platform. Admittedly, it was an Android app first, and maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel like it necessarily belongs on the iPhone, but I think it’s more than that.
For reference, compare Yelp’s “Monocle” AR feature to Layar’s implementation. Layar features a weird horizon plane grid that seems to be more distracting than anything else. Plus, with the cramped UI which tries to do too much on a single screen, I feel like I’m not actual getting as much usable information as I am with Yelp.
In short, despite the multiple filters it offers, and neat features like having those filters specially selected based on your geographical location, I don’t think I’ll ever be using Layar again. A ho-hum interface, and some odd usability quirks make this app feel like a tech demo that showed up at the party way too late. If you’re looking for usable AR, try Yelp’s Monocle mode, or just sit tight and wait for the next generation of AR apps.