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Layar wins the eComm Application Award

Jaqueline Heijn October 30, 2009

Today Layar won the eComm Application Award. We feel extremely honored to have received this prestigious award and are grateful for the recognition of Layar as a valuable and promising addition to the communications industry.

Layar wins eComm Communication Application Award

We are proud of our team who made this possible and thankful to the community of developers who never cease to come up with ground-breaking ideas for new layers!

The award was presented by Lee Dryburgh, founder of eComm and the World’s SS7 Expert.

Winner of the eComm Technology Award was Google with ‘Google Wave’, an online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A revolutionary platform and a well deserved win!


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Support for video and audio in Layar

Dirk Groten October 29, 2009

We’ve pushed a new version of Layar (2.2) to the Android Market and iTunes App Store (2.1) a few days ago.

Besides some bug fixes and preparations for the upcoming releases of Android 1.6 and 2.0 (with many new devices), there is one change that is relevant for our developers: The POI actions now support video and audio! Also links to other native applications (intents/URL schemes) are supported.

  • video:// This URL scheme should be used if you want to add a video to your POI actions. The video:// will be replaced by http:// when actually calling the URL. Layar supports 3GPP and MPEG4 videos with progressive download hints (streaming over HTTP).

  • audio:// This URL scheme should be used if you want to add an audio track to your POI actions. The audio:// scheme will be replaced by http:// when actually calling the URL. Layar supports playing of mp3 and mp4 (aac) audio files.

  • Custom app support: Say you have an app called Donut that has registered its own donut:// scheme on the system (intent on Android). You can have the app Donut started using this scheme directly from a POI action.

The video and audio will be streamed inside the Layar application, so when closing the stream, the user returns to your layer. Obviously the custom scheme opens the custom app and switches to it, closing Layar on the iPhone.

If you use these new schemes, they will be stripped for users on earlier versions, so make sure you also have some actions for users on v2.1 (Android) or 2.0 (iPhone).

Lastly: Download the new APK v2.2 (Android) for developers here in order to test your layer.

Questions? Use the Google Group!


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Layar at ISMAR 09: Dirk Groten reflects on his visit

Dirk Groten October 28, 2009

Layar is a young company. I’ve joined the company as CTO only 4 months ago. So the people in the world of Augmented Reality are entirely new to me and everyone at ISMAR was a new face. It’s funny to think that after 3 days of ISMAR I already feel part of the club! It’s a small world, so running around the Marriott hotel with a Layar badge quickly got me acquainted with almost everyone at ISMAR. Everyone knew Layar, many knew me by name and wanted to talk with me, showing how much the new startups of 2009 like Layar have captured the minds of people and given a new impulse to Augmented Reality as a whole. And many presentations started by mentioning Wikitude and Layar as the companies that created a paradigm shift in AR for 2009, moving it in the eyes of the general public away from the marker-based 3D football players that you could see last year.

The Monday workshop organized by Christine Perey and Robert Rice had a good turnout. The major upcoming or established AR companies of this year were present: Wikitude, Metaio, ACrossair and Nokia presented their plans or visions.

  • Peter Meier of Metaio announced a mobile SDK which allows app developers to integrate an AR view in their game. The API will take POIs in a XML format and will also support showing highscores in an AR view. Most promising is the announcement of 3D markerless tracking. The first release of Junaio, an iPhone app letting users place 3D content in the real world and share it with their friends, will not have this technology, but Metaio promised to add it soon.

  • Markus Tripp of Mobilizy announced the upcoming API allowing developers to host their own POI content, similar to the Layar approach. With that, they will support ARML, an extension to KML, to describe the POIs. It will be possible to use Wikitude to enter the URL to fetch the POIs, bookmark it inside of Wikitude or search for new content providers (search all ARML sites on the web).

  • David Murphy of Nokia presented the possibilities offered by Symbian for creating your own AR apps. It supports OpenGL but no 3D hardware acceleration, has a good JSON parser (a coincidence David Murphy mentioned this as Layar uses JSON?) and supports position and compass well. Maybe more interesting is the fact that it is increasingly becoming possible to use python for development on Nokia devices, making the learning curve on Symbian much less steep.

  • Chetan Damani of Acrossair also announced they will be releasing an open development platform for their browser in November. They will support 3 types of AR apps: Simple XML files for uploading content to the Acrossair platform and viewing in the Acrossair browser, an advanced API for hosting the content on your own server (the Layar model) and full integration for app developers who want the Acrossair view in their own application.

We then had some good discussions on the future of our apps but really weren’t able to agree on a 2012 roadmap for this industry: It’s just too early now and we’re all investigating our own strategies and roadmaps right now.

It was great fun to sit in one room with Markus, Peter and Chetan and discuss possibilities for standardizing some of the stuff we offer. Of course content developers would love to be able to offer their content in a single way across the various browser platforms, like on the web (well, except for some small browser incompatibilities). How can we get there and not have the same crucial flaws the early web browsers had, e.g. with CSS, forcing content developers to customize for each and every browser? The easiest part is the metadata of the POIs where an XML-based structure like KML, used by Wikitude with ARML seems to make sense. But AR browsers are more than a list of POIs. We need a request structure (XMPP, HTTP?), objects in 2d and 3d (.obj? collada? VRML?), user interaction, image recognition and feature recognition to describe the AR world. And all of these would need standardization in order to guarantee interoperability. So whilst acknowledging we will need to standardize, we had to admit that the timing isn’t right yet and standardization would slow down our innovation drift rather than help us at this stage.

What I take away on this first day is that the competition for Layar will be tough, we’re all creating open platforms for AR content and we’re all adding 3D to our browser. On the other hand the focus of each browser is different: graphics and design, user experience, gaming aspects, user-generated content and a solid developer community are various aspects where each of us has its own strengths and weaknesses. Our company strategies are probably very different.

The evening spent with Tish Shute and later Peter Meier and part of his Metaio team was memorable, everybody is extremely open at sharing ideas and driving innovation forward.

My focus the next day was mainly on tracking and tracing. The presentations by Oxford University and TU Graz made my day, giving clearly the state of the art regarding tracking and tracing right now:

  • Marker-based tracing has reached amazing stability on mobile devices, anyone would be able to use it and not get frustrated by objects jumping around or losing the marker. This is important, because even on a PC, I’ve often experience that using it myself led to a jumpy experience with the nice 3D object disappearing every so often due to my movements of the marker.

  • Feature-based image recognition is getting there, although memory limitations on mobile devices will require a limited set of known images to recognize from. Still, we as browser makers will need to think of good user interfaces since the recognition rate is lower than 100% for not too simple images, think more like 80%.

  • Markerless tracking on mobile phones was showcased with 2 quite spectacular demonstrations:

    • One from Dieter Schmalstieg of the TU Graz, where the software was able to recognize the outlines of the area using the buildings around the user. Mapping the shape of the area (street block) to GIS data in order to accurately determine the location. Luckily Graz offers these typical European old-town layouts where none of the blocks has the same shape. One wonders how this would be done in a US city, where blocks are the same in the entire city.

    • the other demo was by George Klein who managed to get PTAM to run on a mobile and track the objects on a desk. Then letting a 3D model of a flower bed grow out of the cover of a book, a video of it you might have seen on YouTube. Neat, but if one user does it on his phone, how will another device know exactly which book was used to ‘plant’ the flowers so someone else can relive the same scene?

  • Also here, user interfaces to help users master this technology will be crucial, as acquiring data points for tracking and recognize features takes time and requires moving the camera around.

Later that evening over thai dinner, I had good discussions about future business models in AR with Tish, Dylan Philips and Joe Ludwig (‘one bus stop away’ layer for Seattle). Can we make business out of the current mobile AR apps that use the ‘magic lens’ or will we have to wait for the glasses and more wearable devices to come on the market to see AR reach the masses? Will consumers feel more comfortable with AR looking through a pair of glasses or will they eventually adopt the ‘hold your phone in front of you’ pose? And what’s the advantage of finding things around you looking through the ‘magic lens’ rather than seeing them on a map? I think Layar has already proven that business can be done now, with a number of our developers making money out of Layar. Also the AR view certainly appeals to many users as being more intuitive than the traditional map view.

Some final take aways for me from ISMAR 09:

  • Even though it sometimes looked like Wikitude and Layar were the AR heroes of today, the stuff that makes our hearts beat faster still comes from the great research by scientists at universities like TU Graz, Oxford, Georgia Tech and Canterbury (NZ). They are laying the foundations for AR in the future, not Layar with its simple ‘not even real AR’ browser :-)

  • Using current AR browsers indoors is usually disappointing, lacking the positioning of GPS. But this is where image recognition and feature recognition will be easier to apply, with well known floor plans and objects. Think for example of musea, paintings and statues.

  • Marker-based tracking (be it with textures or code-based markers) still offers a lot of value when brought into the mobile world. It’s so much easier to use than with PC/webcam setup. István Barakonyi from Imagination had very cool demos of this technology: The book on the little worm that eats his way through all the fruit and becomes a beautiful butterfly that we all read when we were children got new life with AR.


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Developer Fredrik Davidsson shares his code for PHP driven Layers

Jaqueline Heijn October 27, 2009

Fredrik Davidsson, developer of the WAYD layer, has shared his code with the developer community! This code enables you to create a content Layer with PHP. Now PHP developers don’t have to reinvent this wheel.

wayd_oslo_lunchmedkollegorThe code can be found on his website and will be added to the Layar wiki later this week.

Thanks Fredrik! We hope you will inspire other developers to do the same.

We asked Fredrik some questions about himself, WAYD and his layer:

What is your age and profession?
I am 36 years old and I work as a systems consultant at Teknograd.

What is WAYD?
The WAYD goal is to communicate more and better! To understand what WAYD is I will give you some background on how it came to life. Teknograd is a small company with only 15 employees. We have a nice office in Oslo and one in Trelleborg. But most of the time we are on the road helping our customers. So it is not too often we meet up for a coffee and some small talk.

Communicating, interacting and building a team spirit can be hard when we are on the road most of the time. With Web 2.0 we of course have all the tools at hand to solve this. Or? The problem with most of these platforms is that it brings the communication away from the internal discussions and talks. Out of this “problem” sprang the idea to build a group platform for small to medium size groups.

Why did you decide to make the WAYD layer?
The layer interface enables people using WAYD to see what friends and colleagues have seen in the past at the current or close by locations. It lets people co-experience events in a whole new way.

What are your plans with WAYD and the WAYD layer?
WAYD is a free platform and most of the code is open source. Our goal is to get more small and medium sized organizations/groups on to the WAYD platform. The feedback we get from the users will help us build a better product which in turn will benefit our goal of better communication. The WAYD layer adds to the user experience and gives a better common understanding between people as they now can co-experience events in the near past.

Why did you decide to share your code?
Sharing is caring ;-). The Layar API is open and well documented and sharing my code will get others up to speed much faster.

At this moment the WAYD layer is available in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.


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New Projectmanager

maurice groenhart October 26, 2009

This morning Maurice Groenhart started as our new project manager. He will be responsible for a variety of projects in the upcoming months. Maurice graduated two month ago and was searching for the right job since. Last week we hired him and this morning he started his first official day at Layar. Maurice will introduce himself in the few sentences below:

“My name is Maurice Groenhart and I’m 27 years old. For the past 4 years I was a student at the Hogeschool Utrecht where I studied Digital Communications. During my study I got very interested in technology, innovations and (online) marketing. After my thesis about Mobile Advertising and my graduation it was finally the time to look for an interesting job. I found this job at Layar where I can combine my interests and ambitions in my new job as a project manager. In my spare time I like to read and enjoying the good things in life like friends, good food, a little bit of sport and formula 1. I’m really looking forward to my period at Layar.”

With this post we want to welcome Maurice (@groenhart) on board. Good luck.


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