Augmented reality is basically just a virtual overlay on the ‘real world’. Remember the robot-vision from Terminator? That’s what Layar does. Only slightly more current, and on your Android and iPhone mobile phones.
Why? Because, let’s face it, after a decade of GUI innovation we’re still not thinking outside of the box (pun intended). It’s time for a revolution.
Although Layar exists for both iPhone and Android, this review was based off an Android phone. Slight differences might occur in the augmented reality iPhone version, albeit minimal.
There’s Something About Layar…
Layar actually works very simply. It takes a streaming image input from your mobile phone’s camera, and adds one, or even a number of layers onto it, also dubbed filters. With these filters, you can look around for the nearest pub with Belgian beer, find interesting art expositions in Chicago, or even look at houses that are for sale. Some features are limited to a specific locale, but with almost 400 layers, there’s bound to be something you can put to use.
For less confusion, you can toggle off the grid overlay, or even switch to a list or map view of the nearest results. There’s a screenshot of the latter further down the article.
If you fire up Layar for the first time, you’ll be greeted with the Featured layers tab. Use these to go on a trial run of the interface. Also check out the Local, Popular, and Search tabs. See anything you like? You can ‘favorite’ a layer by pressing the lower left star button for future reference.
Layar Local Search
One of the first, and often most useful filters is Layar’s own local search. You can already find it in the Featured tab by default. The layer does a Google Maps search, and surrounds you with the results on a grid.
All you need is a keyword, and a distance. Obviously, in rural areas, you’ll have to set a larger perimeter than if you were downtown in a major city. ‘Pizza’ serves me just fine, but you can try ‘supermarket’, ‘shoe store’, ‘theatre’, and just about anything else that comes to mind.
The results of your search will be dotted out on your radar, and you can focus on each mark individually by making a pirouette. Layar and Google will show you the establishment name, and distance in meters. If you want more information on a specific result, focus on it and press the big OK button on your cellphone, or just tap the name on the screen. You’ll get the address, phone number and can even plot your route.
Your sense of direction drowned out by the results? Hit the Map button to get a cleaner overview. The rest of the interface will remain unchanged. Tap Reality to switch back.
The Twitter ‘Matrix’ & Other Layers
What else can you do with Layar? One of the other popular layers is Tweeps, which gives you Twitter augmentation on your cellphone. Look at some of the latest Tweets close to you. Very strange, but a great tool for party crashers and stalkers.
As said before, there are now almost 400 different filters available for Layar, and more coming up. The API isn’t hard to find, so you can even make your own. To find interesting new layers, regularly check the Popular and Featured tabs, or take a hit at Search. Try using general tags to turn up most results (e.g. art beats exposition).
Closing off, a question to take home. Where would you like to see graphical user interfaces heading in the (near) future? Buttons and sliders or augmented reality? Or can they co-exist? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!