We talked up Layar’s augmented reality app when it was just barely known, and mentioned its global launch on the Android platform. But last we spoke to the founders of Layar about the global launch of their reality browser, they were awaiting Apple’s app store approval. Now it’s here: Layar’s free AR browser has arrived in the iPhone App Store. And with a bit of luck, it could become one of the device’s killer apps.
If you’re still at a loss as to the significance of augmented reality, Layar’s own explanation from inside the app explains it well: “Layar is a tool to browse the world. It enables exploration, more informed decisions, serendipity and fun. […] While looking through the phone’s camera lens, a user can see houses for sale popular bars and shops, touristic information of the area, play a live game, etcetera.”
Layar aggregates all those little niggly bits of extra information you often wish you knew when visiting a certain new place–the best way to the train station from the point you’re standing on, where the best cafe is, and so on–and overlays it on the real world as viewed through your phone’s camera. And there is a whole lot more functionality that’s waiting to be realized. Layar’s code lets developers create their own informational overlays for the real world. As the Layar release notes, gaming is a significant potential exploit of the code, with everything from advanced geocaching treasure hunts to virtual shooters being obvious possibilities. There are all sorts of social networking uses too.
Unlike other dedicated AR apps, Layar is crafted to act as a browser that allows for these different apps to be used, rather than being single purpose. Layar’s already out for Android phones. But today’s release makes it available to the millions of iPhone users around the world who increasingly treat the device as a mobile computer–iPhone users account for over 50% of mobile Web browsing, for example. The marriage between useful/fun/vital/helpful location-based data offered by Layar, the GPS and digital compass built into the iPhone 3G S (a 3G version is coming, Layar promises), and the legion of developers building new code for the platform give it a good shot at becoming the most popular AR browser on the market, if not a genuine killer app. Especially since it’s free.