This week, I had a meeting with a customer in Vienna (Austria, not Virginia) and we went to lunch afterward. The talk turned to iPhone apps, and he turned me on to an app called "Layar" that he says is in the category of apps known as "augmented reality apps." I tried it out and I really like Layer (it's free, too).
So what the heck is Layar?
Let me try to explain. Layar is an app that uses the technology in your iPhone to add a layer of information to your life. Layar:
- uses the GPS to tell where you are,
- looks up relevant content on the internet based on your location and filtered by the content Layar you select (more on that in a minute),
- plots the data on a "grid" that it shows you on your iPhone screen, and
- dynamically updates your screen as you walk around, point your camera at things, etc.
That still isn't doing it justice, but if you envision Robocop or some other sci-fi movie in which information is populated in a heads-up display in real time, you'll get a sense of how Layar works.
Here is what was going on when I snapped the screen grab at right. I was walking from a train station to my hotel in Berlin, and I saw the ruins of a church and was curious what it was. I started up Layar, selected the Wikipedia overlay, and pointed my iPhone at the church.
One of the little "W" icons had a blue line connecting it to the location of the church, so I tapped on that W, and it turned to a globe icon and populated the little text balloon you see at the bottom of the screen. I was then able to go to Wikipedia to find out more about the church (it's a fascinating story, actually). Now, I know what the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is, as well as some of the story of why it looks like it does now.
This app made the rest of my short visit in Berlin many times more enjoyable, and I'll be using Layar to help explore other cities I visit in the future.
There are other Layars to choose, such as ones that help you find hotels, bars, businesses, nearby Twitter users, pictures taken nearby, etc. It's a lot of fun to experiment and see what the Layars know about the area around you.
My only complaint? As with any iPhone app that uses the GPS, using Layar a lot will cause you to drain your battery much faster than normal.