First Augmented Reality App Lands in App Store—Will Apple Let It Stay?

The first "real" iPhone AR app has gone live in the iTunes App Store. But it's arrived earlier than expected—weeks before Apple said it would be allowed.

We recently described a lot of ways augmented reality (AR) is going to appear on a mobile device near you soon. But now it's here: The first "real" iPhone AR app has gone live in the iTunes App Store. It's specifically for Parisians. But it's arrived earlier than expected—weeks before Apple said it would be allowed.

Metro Paris SubwayAnd by early, we mean it's arrived in the App Store by stealth, snuck in as an added-feature in an update to an existing app—Metro Paris Subway. It's unofficial because technically Apple's is not opening the doors to full AR until it releases the new 3.1 code for the iPhone, which is widely expected in September. This code will add in a few more hooks to make AR apps work in a fully-integrated way with the iPhone's video functions...but it seems that Metro Paris's developers PresseLite have found a way to get it all working pretty well with the existing iPhone 3.0 code.

What they've done is create a way for you to find the nearest station on the Paris Metro simply by holding up your phone and looking through the camera at the view in front of you. You can also hold it flat and use it as a walking-guide compass—much as we've seen demonstrated in other AR navigation apps before. This through-camera meta-tagged AR view of the world blends in data from the iPhone 3G S's compass and accelerometer sensors.

Check it out in the video below—which is also a good test of how well you remember your high school French lessons.

Cunningly, the guys have added in a few revenue-making extras too, like finding out where your nearest Starbucks or McDonald's is, as well as other shops and tourist attractions, and even taxi ranks—as long as the relevant point of interest is less than a kilometer from your current location. It's likely to be hugely helpful if you're visiting Paris and aren't sure of your way around...and it's available now for 99 cents. The list of points of interest will cost you extra, available through an in-app micropayment.

Of course we're not sure if Apple will let it remain in the App Store, as the company's officially told other AR developers that it won't approve full AR apps until iPhone 3.1 officially arrives, and even the Metro app isn't perhaps as ideal as it could be—the metatags seem a little jittery at times, not necessarily panning with the rotating iPhone as well as they could. This is possibly a feature of the incomplete AR toolset available in iPhone 3.0. But at least it's a huge and tempting taster for the avalanche of AR apps that'll hit the store pretty soon.

If you're a Parisian, or a visiting tourist, grab it while you can: here—and let us know how well it works.

[MetroParisiPhone via ReadWriteWeb]

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  • Ebyan Alvarez-Buylla

    @Kit AR is anything but brand new. Deploying AR on iPhone/web is what is just now becoming buzzworthy (no doubt thanks to cheap gyroscope/accelerometer technology and readily available web libraries such as the FLART on the web end). Much like 3D engines in Flash, the technology has existed for years, but unlike 3D, hadn't gained as much traction in the mass market. Just the same, it will be compared to previous executions, until it's at least up to par.

  • Kit Eaton

    @Jack. I disagree--the technology is in its very early stages, but the hardware is certainly capable enough. It's just a question of working on techniques to iron-out the early bumps. Things like simple image-motion registration can deal with compass inaccuracies for metatag overlays. And non-mil-spec GPS can locate you to within a few meters... what kind of LBS needs even more accuracy than that?
    @Matias. It's going to get interesting--you're tapping into some of the ideas that will definitely surface in the next year or two. Face recognition tech is already in some digital cameras, for example.
    @Ebyan. It's funny to hear about a brand-new tech being "held back." Every new tech has massive potential beyond the capabilities which it arrives with...can't we just be happy for now that it works, it's neat, and it's both fun and useful?

  • Ebyan Alvarez-Buylla

    We are definitely witnessing the infancy of mobile technology interfacing with real space. At this point, we are getting a glimpse of what is possible but are held back by lack of accuracy and motion processing delay.

    I'm a bit skeptical of what 3.1 can add to facilitate AR development (faster motion response, possibly?). Short of a major hardware update, the 3.0 iPhone software can already handle AR applications along this vein-- apps that manipulate graphics from positional/gyroscope data, then superimpose it on a video, without doing any actual video recognition.

    Ebyan Alvarez-Buylla | AgencyNet
    Twitter: @AgencyNet

  • Matias Penela

    First of all hats of to PresseLite who were able to get this app to work with the current 3.0 software. It is great to see a glimpse of what is possible with AR and the iPhone.

    I am interested to see what the future holds as far as face recognition. Just like this app can recognize landmarks, I am curious to see applications that can recognize people in a video or frame and interact with their social profiles if available. (Ex: When a picture is taken, poeple that are identified in the picture as your facebook friends would automatically get the picture and/or notification sent).

    As for this app I think for now google maps will be enough for users, but as the app and device hardware get stronger and better I don't see why this type of app would not take off. The interesting part will be when two or more devices can interact in the same AR environment.

  • Jack Benoff

    Disclaimer: I don't speak french so I apologize if this was addressed in the video...

    While this technology is absolutely fascinating and from a distance can help send you in the general direction of a subway station that you're looking for (although debatably your iphone's google map would be more helpful and less awkward to use), I think that there's something we should all be discussing: the hardware running on consumer's smartphones will most likely not allow for the sort of precise consumer experiences being promised by these types of AR executions... Civilian GPS and the iPhone's Compass just aren't that accurate and I think we need to work to manage the average consumers expectations.

    I wrote more about it here: