Fast Company

Layar Wants To Turn Print Pages Into Augmented Reality Gateways

Is the augmented reality company's plan for interactive print an augmented fantasy?

The Dutch national post service posts a magazine called "Er is post!" through every household's letterbox every quarter but this week's edition has something extra-dimensional to it--augmented reality via Layar. Think of it as scratch-n-sniff for the Internet era.

Layar's blog post points out that readers can interact with every page in the magazine that has a Layar logo--Layar has pre-programmed the app to deliver specific extra information that relates to every one of these pages. The user simply has to tap at the augmented pop-over and get taken to websites, Facebook like actions, YouTube videos, apps, and so on. The video demonstrates:

It's about making a traditional printed page "pop" more, and it's about adding a long tail to printed advertising--ensuring that the user remains engaged with the brand for more time, and in more meaningful ways than simply absorbing the static information from fixed words and images.

People have tried this for years. There's the recent and strange love affair with QR codes, for example. You'll probably remember when it was cool to have red/green "3-D" adverts in magazines. And if you've never heard of CueCat then do yourself a favor and look it up--it's an example of early "augmented" information related to magazines that relied on barcodes and a computer...and it was such a disastrously failed experiment that there have to be several lessons in here for Layar concerning information sharing and audience engagement.

What's new is how Layar is not just enhancing pages but using the print pages as a way to reveal new layers--Layars, if you will--of hidden information and experience. "I think augmented print, or as we like to call it, interactive print, is the path to mass usage and adoption. It's how you will use AR without knowing it but millions of people will do it," Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, co-founder of Layar, tells Fast Company. "It is new, yet print is in the unique position of explaining it to its large readership and then provide a useful and fun experience. Something the reader will want to do again and what the publisher and advertiser can turn into business. Also readers can enjoy the digital action and content without putting the magazine down."

"Lots of people read and use print," Lens-FitzGerald adds. "In a sense it's a great infrastructure. And what we do is connect the dynamics of print to the traditions of paper. To grow the publishers and advertisers business and to provide a better experience for the reader."

Layar will still have to warm up users to the idea of holding their phones up to a magazine to use AR--not a natural process--there's a slightly awkward juggling act required to hold the phone in one hand and aim at the page in front of you. Plus there's that inescapable sensation that what you're seeing is a 21st century warm-over of an old idea for improving audience engagement.

But you can't fault Layar for achieving exposure: Six million people learned about Layar and augmented reality in one swoop with this week's trick. And in a near future where we're all wearing Google's "Goggles" or some even better wearable AR/display tech, then this may ultimately be how AR works... Layar's just showing us a glimpse of it now, very early, which is why it feels odd. Or are we being hopelessly optimistic?

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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