iPhone apps that spice up reality

It’s beyond virtual reality. iPhone currently has 3 Augmented Reality apps available in their App store.

If you’re not familiar with augmented reality (nicknamed AR), it’s basically technology that blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s computer-generated. (Doesn’t that sound eerie? Very Matrix-like.)

With augmented reality, you’re overlaying computer graphics onto the real world whether it’s text, images, or whatever. In the iPhone sense, this means that these 3 AR apps incorporate layers of data on top of the camera view on the iPhone. AR uses the iPhone’s GPS navigation and compass to display businesses, restaurants and bars on top of the camera view. You can look through the camera on your iPhone and see blocks of text or images hovering around your real-life environment. It’s pretty neat.

Right now the 3 AR apps available are:

Metro Paris Subway iPhone app

What the Paris app looks like (courtesy of ReadWriteWeb)

1. Metro Paris Subway: While you’re looking through your iPhone camera, images of Paris businesses near you will pop up, along with the distance it takes to arrive there (in both meters and miles!).

2. London Buses: Using this bus-tracking app now pulls up “Point of Interest” databases which allows the user to see food & drink, leisure, attractions and accommodation POIs all over the UK.

And for those residing in the US…

Yelp monocle (courtesy of RWW)

Yelp monocle (courtesy of RWW)

3. Yelp: On the latest version of this app, users have to shake their iPhone 3 times to access this Easter egg feature called “the monocle.” (Well officially the site says shake 3 times but watching other people trying to open the monocle resulted in watching people viciously shake their phone for what seemed like 10 minutes. Since shaking the iPhone for so long can get frustrating, the good news is once you unlock the monocle it will be there forever so it’s a one-time thing.) Once the monocle feature is activated, your camera view fills with yelp boxes telling you what restaurants and such are nearby and lets you read reviews. If your results are inaccurate, the monocle can be re-calibrated by waving the phone in a figure “8” pattern. (Oh dear. Judging by the shaking response time, it should be amusing to see someone on the street waving the phone around endlessly to get the thing to recalibrate.) The Yelp AR monocle is particularly useful for pointing your phone to a specific business while you’re passing by and seeing what reviews pop up.

Watch this 1 min, 30 sec video on the Yelp AR feature to get a better idea:

To get these AR apps, you just need to have the latest versions downloaded. And no, unfortunately none of this is going to work on jail broken iPhones.

These 3 augmented reality apps come as a surprise since the iPhone community wasn’t expecting AR capabilities until the release of the next iPhone OS in fall. The API required to display the augmented reality layers on the camera view wasn’t going to be made public until that time.

The 3 apps managed to sneak past the Apple guards since developers added little AR updates on already established iPhone applications. (Hence the new versions in the Apps store.) ReadWriteWeb surmises that the developers were able to achieve AR technically though the use of a third-party code base called ARToolkit (or iPhoneARToolkit), or software called ChromelessImagePickerController.

Though developers have been told they need to wait until the official release of the next iPhone OS to support their AR apps, evidently some have already circumvented obstacles and rushed to push out their AR additions before schedule. It will be interesting to see who follows suit along with these 3 apps instead of waiting quietly for the new OS’s arrival.

Augmented reality is moving fast. It makes us wonder where the future of AR will go since it’s definitely futuristic tech that’s not reserved to the iPhone.

Augmented reality has obvious tourism benefits (as evidenced by all 3 of these apps) since review/info functions provides help with places and navigation. Another popularly discussed use of AR involves the military since the Office of Naval research and DARPA have both funded research on it. Computer-generated overlays on real world environments can highlight enemy troop movements while in the field and provide X-ray info on surroundings, like where the exits are on the opposite sides of buildings. This military use points obviously to another adaptive idea, perhaps the most important for where AR is headed in the future: Entertainment for gamers.

One Australian researcher has already created a prototype game that combines Quake, a popular video game, with augmented reality. By putting a model of a university campus into the game’s software, the game surrounds him as he walks across campus using the AR system.

We suspect that the following augmented reality head-gear display would need to be in place:

Courtesy Columbia University Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab

Courtesy Columbia University Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab

Yep, it looks pretty spiffy.

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3 Comments on “iPhone apps that spice up reality”

  1. Chewnami Says:

    Great article!! My iPhone never ceases to amaze me. If it wasn’t for this blog, I wouldn’t have known about this wonderful addition to the iPhone’s capabilities!! Keep up the good work!

    • Vickster Says:

      Thanks for your support! And I’m sure we have more amazing AR features to look forward to when the new iPhone OS is released soon 🙂


  2. […] An article about AR apps on the iPhone […]


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