Layar Brings Augmented Reality Browser To The iPhone (Screenshots)

Half an hour ago, I just had an iPhone 3GS. Now, I have an iPhone 3GS with Layar installed.

It was one of the main questions I had for the Dutch company, which markets an augmented reality browser, when they launched at the Mobile 2.0 Europe event in Barcelona last year. When would they be complementing their Android program with an application for the iPhone?

They said it’d come in the fall of this year, and while there have been a number of AR applications made available on the App Store in the meantime, Layar’s finally arrived a couple of hours ago and it’s worth a second look. (iTunes link)

In case the concept of augmented reality is still new to you, basically it’s the placement of a digital layer of information on top of a real-life view of the world around you, as seen through e.g. a mobile phone’s camera lens. Using augmented reality, you could be using your smartphone to glance around the main square of a city you’re visiting and get up-to-date information about nearby restaurants, ATMs, real estate offers, and more on-screen, bolted on top of what you’d be seeing if you weren’t looking through the lens.

And if you’re not familiar with the place you’re at, you can ideally place it on top of a map to help you get the right directions, and if you find for instance a sea food restaurant even fetch user reviews to check out if it’s considered to be a decent place, as well as contact information to book a table right from where you’re standing.

Layar does all that, and does it well. I used the iPhone application – which is entirely free, by the way – to find pizza places here in the Brussels region, and I was able to locate dozens of places where I could get one simply by rotating the camera around my house. If you want, you can filter the distance in between 1 and 10 kilometers to narrow your search down.

Layar also boasts its own little developer ecosystem (and even 3D support), so it has so-called ‘layars’ in place mostly made by third-party developers that you can use to enhance what you’re able to see through the camera lens using the app (e.g. for viewing Twitter contacts around you). There are two options in the menu: ‘Featured’, extra layers that were selected by the startup, and ‘Popular’, obviously based on usage. Finally, there’s an integration with Google Local Search which lets you launch searches for places you find using the ‘Reality Browser’.

Layar is great, but it’s not the only AR app in the App Store. First, there’s Mobilizy with their Wikitude browser and then we recently wrote up Robotvision, which does much of what Layar does but is powered by Bing. Gawker recently covered a few more.

All hype or game-changing? It’s still early days for augmented reality, but I’m bullish on it.