Today Layar, Metaio and Wikitude, together with the OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) announced that there will be a demonstration of interoperability between the three browsers of our companies during the upcoming Mobile World Congress. What does it mean and is it important?
Say you’re someone hosting a big festival and are thinking “wouldn’t it be great if I could help the visitors to my event find their way using AR?”. The most popular apps for location-based AR are Layar, Junaio (by Metaio) and Wikitude. So currently you’re going to have to choose a platform and an app for your visitors to download. Or you can make three versions of your AR experience so that it will work with all three apps. Not really the ideal world for creating content for AR.
Actually already more than 4 years ago, Peter Meier (CTO of Metaio), Martin Lechner (CTO of Wikitude) and myself started meeting on a regular basis as part of the AR Standards Community. We knew that if AR was to become an important medium for connecting the physical world to the digital world, it would depend on content publishers being able to create massive amounts of content. And for that to happen, you have to make content publishers’ job easy. That is what standards are for. And one day there will be a standard in this industry. Christine Perey, the founder of the AR Standards Community, has been advocating this right from the early days of the AR Browsers in 2009. She did a great job at pushing Peter, Martin and myself to actively pursue that goal.
There isn’t yet a standard for AR. The ARML 2.0 draft specification proposed by OGC is a first small step towards such a standard, but we’re not there yet. All the companies in this industry are still innovating at a pace that makes it difficult to settle on a common language and common standard in a short period of time.
So during the fall of 2013, again with Christine holding the carrot and stick to ensure progress, we started working on a more pragmatic approach: Rather than having to finalise a standard and support it in our browsers, we (Metaio, Wikitude and Layar) decided to see what it would take to make our browsers interoperable: content made for Junaio should be displayed in Layar and Wikitude and vice versa. Seac02, also an AR browser and platform maker, joined the technical discussions. In January this year we agreed on a technical specification on how to realize interoperability.
The past few months Stefan Misslinger from Metaio —- replacing Peter who apparently didn’t want to do the nitty-gritty work :-) —- Martin and myself collaborated to achieve this: interoperability between our apps for geo-located content. I quote Martin:
“I think it’s fair to say that our companies never worked as close together as over the last couple of weeks :-) Was great to see that we can achieve what we wanted to achieve!”
Is this the end goal? No, of course not: Interoperability is still pretty limited. We only support a very basic set of common features. For AR to really become a mass medium, we need to go much further: support interactivity, vision-based content, 3D, etc…
It’s been great working together like this with Stefan, Peter and Martin. Even though we’re competitors, we all want the same: To see a world where AR becomes common place, where content providers populate our physical world with digital content and where end-users can see all of it with one app.