We've written about Layar, which brings Augmented Reality skills to your smartphone, before—but now the company announced it's taking the app global, with a whole new bunch of content. It's quite possibly the biggest AR event yet.
The app went live in the Netherlands in June of this year, linked to locally-sourced geotagged data sources—like houses for sale in the area. It works pretty much how one thinks AR apps would, by layering auxiliary data on top of the view through a smartphone camera's lens which then lets you know what kind of services are nearby your location. But Layar remained a Netherlands-only app until today.
The Layar team has clearly been working on the app in the background, and hooked in 100 developers to write the clever data layers that make the whole thing work. Now it's available globally on Android phones, and updated to version 2.0—adding in Featured and Favorite layer lists, map and list views and more customization for developers to get their grips on when they write for the app. There's also 500 extra API keys available to make for a richer experience.
It's great news, and the Layar team is clearly making a success of things—the app now comes pre-installed on Samsung Galaxy i7500 phones in the Netherlands, and is coming soon for the iPhone and "other platforms" in the future. But why should you care about a single AR app—aren't there loads of them out there?
Well, that's true. But the existing AR apps tend to be specialized and serve only a single purpose. If Augmented Reality is to become the killer app for smartphones, instead of a plethora of unique apps that would stifle the market, a single "wrapper" protocol is needed. Imagine if instead of a single core Web language (HTML) there were a dozen or more—that would certainly have made the development of the World Wide Web much more complex, with competing standards used to drive the code every Web page. Though we now have Java and Flash and a whole bunch of other Web-enabled languages, each delivering a different sort of content, they all get served up through an HTML framework. And that's why Layar is interesting. It's possibly the first attempt at getting AR systems out there on a large scale, and by being the first it could end up becoming the AR window through which we all end up viewing the digitally-enhanced world.