A new browser for Androil depicts reality, improved

SPRXmobile launches Layar, an augmented reality browser for Android phones

Augmented reality. If you haven't heard this term yet, you soon will. It is the next must-have feature for the smartphone. Yesterday, Netherlands-based SPRXmobile launched a new "augmented reality" browser, dubbed Layar, for Android phones. The service is now available in the Netherlands, with plans to bring it to other phones (notably the iPhone) and other markets like the U.S. later this year.

To use an augmented reality browser, a user fires up the phone's camera lens and scans the real world. Icons appear onscreen that indicate information about the physical site is available. This information can be the fact that the house in the viewscreen is for sale, an ad for a nearby shop, information on a job at the business across the street and so on.

SPRXmobile lined up several content partners as part of the launch of its Android browser. These are ING (ATM’s), Funda (houses for sale), Hyves (social network hot spots) Tempo-team (jobs) and Zekur.nl (healthcare providers). SPRXmobile will partner with local contents providers in each country where Layar will be supported.

Cool as augmented reality is (and it is cool), Layar isn't the first to do it for Android. SPRXmobile has been taking some heat from its claims that it is first. But alas, Australian-based Mobilizy also offers an Android augmented reality application, WikiTude, which it launched in 2008.

WikiTude overlays links to geo-tagged online articles from Wikipedia, Qype and Panoramio. It therefore doesn't require country-by-country content partners and has access to GPS location data from about 350,000 articles. It projects this data when a user is scanning the world using the camera's live view image, thanks to the G1’s built-in compass and accelerometer.

Mobilizy's flagship product is the Wikitude AR Travel Guide. Wikitude AR is a mobile travel guide with augmented reality functionality. Users can search for landmarks in their surroundings and view them on a map, list them, and find them in an augmented reality (AR) camera view. The AR screen (pictured below) offers up annotations on landmarks, mountain names, descriptions and interesting stories.

Augmented reality is not confined to the smartphone. In 2007, a company called Total Immersion introduced at the Demo Conference its augmented reality software that uses a Webcam and a desktop computer.

Last month, Total Immersion released an "augmented reality journey" for the Paramount blockbuster movie Star Trek. Visitors to the site http://www.experience-the-enterprise.com/ww/ can print out a special image and then display that image via their desktop Webcams. Alternatively they can use their iPhones.

A palm-sized Star Ship Enterprise come to life in the palm of their hand, much like a holodeck simulation. As you turn the image, you are taken on a tour of the ship, including testing the ship’s weapon systems, impulse engines and warp drive. Pointless, but fun for the inner treckie in us all.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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