Android: "Augmented Reality" is a buzz phrase gaining a lot of notice lately. Free Android app Layar, one of the first full-featured AR apps for Android, layers helpful, location-specific data on top of whatever you're looking at through your device's camera.
In a true-to-form augmented reality app, a phone's camera would be used to provide a live video stream, and the application would analyse objects in that stream and interact with them in some way. This video demonstrates what the future will likely hold for motion-sensitive, GPS-enabled, decent-camera-toting phones—with zombies:
Until phones catch up to developers' ambitions, we have half-breed apps like Layar that pull in geographic data from your phone's GPS location, check it against web databases, and then show the locations of nearby subway stations, restaurants, and more overlaid on the image of your surroundings from your phone's camera. Android phones allow apps to access the video stream for overlays, while the iPhone 3GS picked up that ability with the 3.1 firmware update, as ReadWriteWeb details. Here's how Layar's developers demonstrate the app in their native Amsterdam:
For a real-world, smaller-city test, I grabbed a T-Mobile G1 and headed to Buffalo's Elmwood Avenue commercial strip, with a side venture to Main Street, to see what Layar could show me. The app has a single view and function that pulls in your camera's video stream, but you can switch up what "layer" you see over it on the fly. The layers, listed at Layar's web site, come from web services with big geographic data piles, like Wikipedia, review site Yelp, real estate finder Trulia, and sites that mash up social apps like Flickr and Twitter. Yelp and Flickr (pulled in as "FlickAR" in this app) are, as you might imagine, the most densely packed of the apps I tried. You normally turn your camera, or yourself, to get thumbnail data on any "blips" that come up in Layar. When you come up with clusters of results in layers like Yelp, though, you'll end up switching to the less impressive list view, because trying to pinpoint individual finds will have passersby wondering why it looks like you're trying to rotate the world with your phone.
I didn't get any results for local tweets or Trulia real estate findings, but an architectural society layer and Wikipedia yielded a few fun surprises. If you were new in a city and looking for something to check out, Layar might well be worth the time (and battery drain) to check out. Who wouldn't want to check out the spot where President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo, or the seriously creepy spires of the H.R. Richardson "State Lunatic Asylum"? Layar is neat stuff, and will probably get better as more developers buy into it.
Layar is a free download for Android phones only. If you've used the app for something useful, fun, or something in-between, tell us about it, and post pictures, in the comments.