Augmented reality goes mainstream with mobile applications

Competition between Apple, Google, and third-party vendors will push augmented reality programs onto smartphones faster than anyone has predicted.

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Layar faces competition not just from Google Goggles but from Mobilizy, which has a similar program Wikitude, an AR browser that's works on both Android and Nokia's Symbian platform.

Besides the general purpose augmented reality browsers, there are more specific-purpose applications like AcrossAir's Nearest Tube, and Nearest Subway. These iPhone applications can help you find the nearest subway stations in London and New York City respectively. Similar navigation programs for other cities are coming.

The general purpose augmented reality programs are also being used as the foundation for other applications. For example, with Layar you can take a virtual Beatles tour around London's Abbey Road neighborhood. And other similar tourist applications are already appearing.

Another use of augmented reality is as guides for the blind. vOICe for Android is exploring what can be done with an AR application that tells an Android device user about his or her environment.

Sekai Camera shoots Starbucks
Image credit: Tonchidot

Sekai Camera shoots Starbucks

And, you don't have to depend on companies for information. While Moseycode is still coming together, users will be able to label whatever they want with Moseycode labels. Tonchidot, a Japanese company, has created the Sekai Camera -- a social tagging service for both Android phones and the iPhone -- that allows users to walk around and see notes from their friends about a location. For example, great pizza here!

Or, to solve a problem near and dear to me, there's Intridea's Car Finder (iTunes link), which uses augmented reality and the iPhone 3Gs location-based service to help you find your car in the parking lot.

This just touches the surface of what can be done with consumer mobile augmented reality applications. There will be more, many more -- an AR guide to your college (or business) campus? Why not? -- and at this stage it's hard to predict exactly what other forms augmented reality will take. It's safe to say though that we're going to see a wide variety of applications.

While augmented reality for the military and industry has been around for years, and we don't even notice such AR enhancements as the yards for a first down markers on television football broadcasts, personal mobile AR is still in its infancy. That said, everything seems to be coming together to make AR the next big thing in personal technology.

The devices have the LBS hardware they need to register their locations; their processors and broadband connections are fast enough to handle the data requirements; and the software infrastructure is coming together quickly. Will 2010 be the year of augmented reality? Maybe not. But, AR is on the verge of going mainstream, and it will be fascinating to see just how it will change our lives.

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