I’m Spartacus! No, I’m Spartacus!
As you may or may not be aware, Augmented Reality is the biggest thing to hit communication technology since they made mobile phones small enough to fit in our pockets. Using your phone’s camera and GPS system, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) can overlay 3D graphics on to our screens, turning boring camera phones into mobile visual Wikipedias, capable of telling you just about anything you want to know. Anywhere. Anytime.
All you have to do is point your camera at something of interest and push the tag button on the screen to bring up more info about it. AR is still in the early stages, at least when it comes to civilian use (the military have used these toys in fighter jets for years now but still manage to drop bombs on farmers rather than enemy soldiers) but the AR race is hotting up as research and development companies battle to bring their APIs out first and corner the market.The two leaders of the pack in this regard are Layar and Wikitude. Layar are owned by SPRXmobile and run by a privately-funded team of developers based in Amsterdam while their opponents Wikitude are an offshoot of Austrian software company Mobilizy. Both have created AR browsers for use with GPS-equipped phones such as the T-Mobile G1 and both can be downloaded from the Android Market, where users have access to apps developed by third-party developers.
The Android Market, which was only made available to UK users in March 2009, is a lucrative business opportunity as developers receive 70% of the price with the other 30% going to the carrier, i.e Google. Layer and Wikitude, however, are free to download. So what separates Layar from Wikitude? Aren’t they basically offering the same service? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
Layar had been in development for a year and a half before being rolled out primarily in the Netherlands offering a handful of content layers for real estate, banking and restaurant information. In the same way the Android Sky Map app lets users point their phones at the sky and bring up detailed information on constellations, Layar works with your phone’s GPS and compass to determine your location and which direction the phone is facing before relaying the relevant data back to you via their servers.