Augmented Reality Hits a Snag: Layar iPhone App Pulled from App Store

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Back in September we voiced concerns that media hype from around the globe might be putting too much pressure on companies specializing in augmented reality technology. Our fear? That they'd push out inferior products to take advantage of consumer and media hype.

Our concerns were valid, as a recent report from ReadWriteWeb notes that the popular augmented reality iPhone app "Layar" has been pulled from the App Store by its development team. Pixels and Policy reports.

Augmented Reality: Risky Business

Listening to the mainstream media, Augmented Reality promised to revolutionize the way we shopped, played and interacted with the world around us. In recent weeks, the scale of Augmented Reality hype took on new levels as McDonalds launched an AR tie-in to James Cameron's "Avatar" and Esquire Magazine printed an entire issue with AR capability.

But AR by itself is still a clunky technology that requires the user to own a webcam and position the square AR tags just-so to get a proper image. Last month DigitalBeat reported on how one company aimed to turn the entire world into an interactive online game thanks to augmented reality technology embedded in everything from phones to eyeglasses – now the future looks more uncertain.

According to ReadWriteWeb, the real-world launches of Augmented Reality products have been less than successful. Layar, the first major Augmented Reality iPhone app, suffered from stability issues from its first day out of beta. Crashing was common, and sometimes the overlay just didn't work. From the article:

The field has been plagued with technical difficulties and
disappointments so far, though. Layar wrote today on its blog that it
doesn't know exactly where the problem with its app is but that it's a
memory management issue that's been present since the app was built.
Resolution will take weeks, not days, the company says.

All this is to be expected with a technology as novel as Augmented Reality, and none of the criticism above should be construed as doubting the game-changing potential of Augmented Reality.

What we do doubt, though, is whether this tech is really read for the widespread roll-out it has received so far. Instead of trying to take advantage of a flawed hype cycle, companies should still be working out the kinks in this emergent tech. From the clunkiness of Esquire's AR edition to the failure of Layar to impress, it should be apparent that Augmented Reality is not ready for major consumer adoption.

Repeated product launches that come tainted by bugs, programming errors and subpar performance threaten to turn consumers off of Augmented Reality entirely. This is a risk developers can ill afford, especially with a technology that could, with further research and innovative development, become a staple of consumer entertainment in ten years.

Letting Augmented Reality Incubate

The Augmented Reality "industry" would be well-served by letting emerging AR tech incubate for a few more years before companies again consider widespread releases of buggy, borderline nonfunctional products. One area where AR technology could continue its impressive growth? Small-scale technical work similar to how AR is implemented on the International Space Station.

The ESA-designed Wearable Augmented Reality (WEAR) is a wearable
computer system that incorporates a head-mounted display over one eye
to superimpose 3D graphics and data onto its wearer’s field of view.

Controlled by voice for hands-free operation, WEAR includes onboard
location and object identification to show astronauts precise
information about what they are looking at, as well as providing
step-by-step instructions to guide them through difficult, lengthy
procedures.

Think of the WEAR headset as a virtual IKEA instruction manual. It informs the astronaut of what piece goes where on a module, how much water a science project requires, and how to repair a ship's heating tiles – all without carrying around clunky manuals in zero gravity. In this situation, AR has a very clear, specialized purpose. It also excels at the job.

The problem is that Augmented Reality attempts to be all things to all consumers. It isn't just an outlet for games, it also helps you find the lowest price on gas, guides you to a Starbucks or Papa Johns, promises to enhance your vision and offers an interactive music experience. Before the ambitious developers of AR take on everything, they'd best consider whether Augmented Reality is a good fit for the field.

Even if developers lose a few years, they will ultimately be releasing a better product with a clearer consumer purpose and better functionality. As Layar proves, being the first into the field sometimes means being the first to fall. Either way, a valuable lesson is learned.

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