Close-Up: Augmented reality hits upon a mobile formula

Adland is abuzz about Layar, an application that turns mobile phone cameras into information portals and local search engines.

Just months ago, augmented reality was unknown to most. But now it's gone mobile.

Layar is a mobile application that overlays information on top of whatever it is you are looking at in the real world through your mobile's camera.

Campaign picked four industry boffins to explain if and how it works, what it can achieve for brands and where it can go next.

INDY SAHA - digital strategy director, TBWA\London

At the immediate level, Layar is a simple geospatial catalogue, helping you to intuitively identify shops, businesses, facilities, services and so on around you in your field of vision. The logical extension of this is that if what you need is not in your field of vision, you can search for it, and your phone can then guide you to your destination through its camera function.

Since Layar knows what you are looking at, it can also display proprietary or public information linked to it: what films are showing at a cinema, for example. When the information associated with a place becomes realtime, Layar takes utility to a new level: seats left for movies showing at this cinema, next arrival time at this train station, all linking to the relevant transaction site to allow immediate purchase.

Once you start to link social information geo-tagged to a place - using Facebook Connect or Twitter, for example - Layar could take on a powerful personal dimension: from what your friends thought of this restaurant, your friends' photos from this bar, to your friends' coffee shop recommendations in the area.

SCOTT SEABORN - head of mobile technologies, Ogilvy Group UK

We road-tested the technology, which I call Google on crack, around Canary Wharf with a T-Mobile HTC touchscreen phone from the Ogilvy Labs.

First off, the interface is very slick (I loved the Tron-style vision grid) and easy to use. Selecting "search Layar" allows you to find your nearest bank, pub, Post Office etc with ease. You just hold your phone up, look through your camera and it guides you there. It's easy and pretty accurate. The Wikipedia facility works well - when I pointed the phone towards Canary Wharf tower, I was given its Wikipedia entry and all kinds of useful bits of info. There's also BrightKite, which when mixed with Layar, offers a kind of virtual notice board - you can pin notes to buildings, with photos and text.

There were a few of these within metres of Ogilvy HQ. Pointing the phone towards the local wine bar, I learned that one guy enjoyed a recent reunion there.

The live Twitter feed based on location is another feature that is fascinating - you can pick up all the live Tweets nearby. At the moment it seems a bit limited, especially as a marketing tool, but once more "local Layars" are added I think this app will really start to take off. The possibilities are endless.

THIAGO DE MORAES - digital creative director, CHI & Partners

The most interesting thing about Layar is how open the platform is. This means that it's pretty straightforward for a brand to have a presence within it - from creating a simple layer of dealer locations for a car manufacturer to a complex event that happens in multiple places.

Knowing where people are is becoming much more important to define the way we talk with them.

At the moment, it happens by default - television at home, computers in a few places, posters in the street and so on - but if companies can find good enough incentives to give people to find their location, they'll be able to interact with people in a way that is exponentially more relevant than we do today.

If you add mobile social networking to the mix, the whole thing becomes even more interesting.

Still, as with anything that people interact with directly, there's a danger of becoming quite intrusive.

A phone is much more personal than a TV, perhaps a bit more than a computer, and no-one wants giant discount vouchers popping up along the road as they try to take a photo. Much less an unprompted message from a brand saying something along the lines of: "Since you're around here with so and so, why not pop in?"

MIKE WATSON - creative director, EHS Brann

The exciting part for advertisers the world over is that brands can use Layar's application programming interface to create their own layers of content.

It's the quality of this content that's going to make this type of augmented reality software a success. And it's not hard to see the enormous potential of this application for brands. What is really exciting is the thought of geo-tagging individual products. Imagine visiting a car showroom, for instance, and being able to find out everything you wanted to know about any car by pointing your phone at them.

But why stop there? Why not geo-tag everything? That way in the near future, we'll be able to point our phones at just about anything we want information on.

- For more industry views, visit


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