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Is augmented reality the next big thing in smartphones?

'Surf the world' as you walk through it

Augmented reality in smartphones is set to become the next big thing. We look at what the concept is, what it'll be used for and whether current smartphones can handle the technology.

Mobile AR apps are still in their infancy

World Surfer, Wikitude World Browser and Yelp's Apple iPhone 3GS app are typical of today's mobile AR apps.

They let people use smartphones to search for information about nearby restaurants, businesses and landmarks.

Users can contribute comments and reviews about such places, and those reviews will be available to others, who you can access them by clicking on links that appear over the images captured on their smartphones.

Such apps aren't limited to providing information about objects that are directly in front of you, nor do they always focus on businesses and landmarks.

Acrossair, for example, has a series of iPhone public transit apps that help users navigate the subway systems in select cities. Simply point your iPhone in a given direction, and the app shows the names of subway stations and transit lines located in that direction; it also tells you how far away each station is.

Mobile AR apps usually first list the place of interest that's closest to you in the direction you're pointing, followed by other places that are farther away; they tap mapping information from their databases to provide you with directions to more distant objects.

This all sounds pretty nifty, but because of the technological limitations of today's smartphones, the data these apps display isn't always correct.

The one that most effectively handles local searches and provides the best walking directions is World Surfer, says Gene Becker, a blogger who tracks the latest developments in AR.

A few apps are taking mobile AR in different directions. Metaio's iLiving app for the iPhone lets you take a picture of a room and place 3D graphic models of furniture into the photo and then share screenshots of this virtual setting with your friends via social networks.

It's a fun way to design a new office or rearrange your living room.

The recently launched Junaio iPhone app, also from Metaio, is a mobile AR platform designed to foster creativity.

With Junaio, users can publish their own 'scenes' online by sticking 3D graphic models (some of which are animated) over images of locations they capture with their smartphone cameras.

They can also share these scenes with friends via Facebook or Twitter. Junaio and iLiving showcase the fun, community-oriented uses of AR, even if they may not be particularly "useful."

SPRXmobile's Layar 3.0 platform (for iPhone and Android smartphones) is similar to Junaio, but SPRXmobile is encouraging content developers to contribute a wealth of relevant, practical information about real-world businesses, landmarks and locations in hopes of creating utilitarian apps that would, for example, guide users to a bank's ATMs or overlay photos and data about historical buildings on present-day locations.

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NEXT PAGE: Present mobile AR technology isn't precise

  1. 'Surf the world' as you walk through it
  2. What is augmented reality?
  3. Mobile AR apps are still in their infancy
  4. Present mobile AR technology isn't precise
  5. The final problem
  6. Unlike virtual worlds, mobile AR may actually stand a chance in the market
  7. A natural extension of human perception

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