Layar is the first viable augmented reality app for smartphones. Now it's just released its API to developers, which should pave the way for an armload of augmented reality apps.
Layar's API isn't open for everyone yet, and the company seems to be following a somewhat Palm Pre-esque system of only allowing a select group of developers to build for its system. Those interested parties apply to Layar, and the platform will then be open to 50 developers. It's all designed to boost the number of layers presented to users of the augmented reality app, superimposing different kinds of location-based information on its display. And that's absolutely key to the future of Layar and other apps like it--they'll be measured not only by how they perform, appear or are easy to use, but also on the quality and kind of information they present.
All of which begs the question: With augmented reality certain to be a big part of our gadgety future, what kind of AR apps would you like to see on the iPhone, the Pre and the various Android phones? The London Tubes navigation app recently hit the news, and has met with a universal thumbs-up. But AR has possibilities far and above this. Here are my two suggestions.
Facebook Live Overlay
Imagine if a person's public Facebook info was broadcast from your smartphone up to the cloud, and transmitted down to a suitable AR app. Glancing around at a street scene would take on a whole new meaning--you'd get a tiny hovering tag above each person showing their name, and a few lines about who they are. By filtering this info you could find people with similar interests to you, and, of course, a date. This will probably be one very prominent way AR gets used anyway, but there are all sorts of implications of making a physical online social network we'd find it hard to imagine right now, just as it was hard to imagine Facebooking before Facebook.
What Happened Here?
As a bit of a renaissance man, I often find myself standing in front of an old building or in a famous city plaza and wondering what the heck happened here in the past. Those little plaques you sometimes see screwed to house frontages, suggesting such-and-such an important person was born halfway up a wall just aren't enough. So I'd love an augmented reality app that would superpose all this interesting stuff above the relevant places in front of me. It could grab info from wikipedia or similar sources, and could lead to all sorts of city-discovery tours--especially if it were smart enough to end any particular entry with "And if you turn to the left, you'll see the..." Think of it as an infinitely more sophisticated version of those electronic talking guides you get in some museums.
That's just my thinking. I'm sure you all are infinitely more imaginative--and AR offers a literally endless scope to add to daily experiences with additional information. Send us your thoughts in the comments.