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Layar Helps NY Town Discover Its Past

Chris Cameron June 26, 2013

Layar partner Muzar has helped create a new historical lens through which residents of Port Jefferson, New York can look to see what their town looked like long ago.

As part of the Port Jeff Portal project, the city’s rich history comes alive with location-based photos juxtaposed against the current reality with content in the Layar App.

“Imagine if you could be transported back in time and experience a familiar place as it was 30, 50, or 100 years ago…the buildings…the people…the history,” the town said in a press release today. “Over time digital “walking tours” will be added and updated giving fresh new looks at different historical and chronological points.  The free mobile application available to most major devices will be the gateway into the past of Port Jefferson going back up to 100 years.”


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Layar on Google Glass: It’s Not Augmented Reality

Dirk Groten, Ronald van der Lingen June 25, 2013

Photo by The Verge.

The following is a post by Layar’s R&D lead Ronald van der Lingen and CTO Dirk Groten.

Two weeks ago we got our hands on Google Glass, and we have not been sitting idle. We started hacking right away to see what we can do with Layar and this hot new piece of technology. Here are our findings from these initial experimentations.

Glass runs on Android, we have an Android version of Layar. Piece of cake?

When we learned that Google Glass is “just” an Android device with a custom interface on top of it, we of course wanted to know if the code base of Layar for Android would work. We were already skeptical about the usability of “true” augmented reality (AR) on Glass, but you never know for sure until you try. “True” augmented reality is when you see your reality modified by the digital layer that’s added to it. You look at a page in a magazine through your AR glasses or AR-enabled smartphone and the page appears different than in reality: an image in the page comes to life, a 3D car model is shown instead of the flat picture of the car or a “Buy” button is added on top of an ad for a perfume bottle.

“Layar just runs on Glass.”

While Google Glass is running Android, it is not really easy to launch android apps from the user interface. Currently, you need to enable debug mode, which allows you to sideload applications and launch them. To our surprise, clicking “launch” in our development environment resulted in a correctly functioning AR display showing the full camera preview with attached augmentations in the corner of our eyes.

However, the user experience was terrible.

The problem is that the display of Google Glass is just a small screen in the corner of your eye, that you specifically have to look at by looking up. It is not completely immersive like what you would need for a true AR device. So the experience when running Layar’s vision based AR unmodified on Glass is that of holding your phone above your normal line of sight, looking up and at the same time trying to hold your head as if you’re looking at the magazine or object through the camera lens.

This confirmed our initial expectation that Google Glass requires a completely different mindset from any other platform we operate on. Rather than simply showing the content as we would on phones and tablets, we need to look at other ways of displaying the vast amount of content created for the Layar platform.

Google Glass UI

To figure out what type of user experience would work on Google Glass, a good first step is to look at what Google Glass offers out-of-the-box. Here we see a very simple user interface with big text and not a lot of content. The content is represented as screens (also called timeline cards) on a single timeline. This timeline contains the history of all actions the user has taken and notifications the user has received in chronological order. By swiping back and forth on the touchpad on the side of Glass, the users can easily scroll to the history of cards. 

When tapping the side of Glass to enable it, you are first shown the home screen containing the time and the sentence “Ok glass.” Saying this command allows you to start actions like “take a picture,” “record a video,” “send a message,” etc. Triggering these actions will add new timeline cards to the history. Timeline cards can have menu options that are shown when tapping the touchpad. Some common actions include reply, share and delete.

This simple interface is all the user sees on Glass. There is no real concept of apps like you are used to on phones and tablets. Third party apps are really just services that interact with the user’s timeline.

Mirror API

The only official way to develop apps (“Glassware”) for Glass is through the Mirror API. This is a cloud based API, meaning that the software is not running on the device itself, but as a service on the Internet. This service is connected to the Google Mirror API servers, which allows interaction with the user’s timeline.

The possibilities of the Mirror API are quite limited. The most common use case that is covered is allowing services to add notification cards to the timeline with news items, messages or other content (including photos and videos). Glassware is also able to add contacts that can be used for sharing. This allows the user to share photos and videos with third party services.

For Layar, this was sufficient for us to create a simple prototype service that allows the user to take a picture, share it with a “Scan with Layar” contact, perform the visual search on our servers and push back the results to Google Glass.

While this was a nice proof of concept, the user experience is far from ideal. Currently, scanning an image with Layar requires the user to first take a photo, and then explicitly sharing it with Layar. Ideally, this would be a single action “Scan with Layar” that can be triggered directly, but the APIs don’t provide ways to combine taking a picture and sending it to a service.

Another problem with this flow is the fact that the Mirror API by design is asynchronous. The timeline on Google Glass is kept in sync with the Google Servers, but sometimes this synchronisation is slow due to bad connectivity or other circumstances. This is ok for sharing photos to social networks (as it will just synchronize once a connection can be made), but for Layar, the user will expect to see results fast.

Finally, the types of content allowed through the Mirror API are quite limited and static. The rich content created by publishers on the Layar platform is nearly impossible to show in a nice and useful manner.

Glass Developer Kit

At Google I/O, a Glass Developer Kit (GDK) was announced that would allow developers to write Android apps for Glass. While details are not given yet, this is supposed to integrate or at least launch real applications from the standard Google Glass user interface.

We feel that this will open a lot of possibilities for us to create a better, rich experience. The key thing will be to keep the UI very simple, similar to the standard Google Glass apps, and use the extra API possibilities to improve the flow and directness of the interaction with the Layar platform. So for example, you will be able to just look at a page in a magazine augmented with Layar and see a list of web links and videos that belong to that page appear in the corner of your eye.

Another thing that will probably be possible with the GDK will be to expose our big collection of geo-layers in a useful manner using the built-in sensors.

Layar will be actively using the GDK once it comes out and will provide feedback through the Glass Explorer program to make sure that we can make a nice experience, so we will be ready when Google Glass hits the consumer market.

In Conclusion…

Google Glass is an exciting new platform that will bring some nice new possibilities. Quite a few AR companies have announced that they will support Google Glass. At Layar, we do our research before making bold claims which set impossible expectations. No, true augmented reality is not possible on Glass at the moment. And no, the current Mirror API will not enable an AR platform like Layar (or any other AR platform) to provide a good user experience to enrich the real world. But with some effort and using the new GDK, Layar will be able to create a great experience to enrich the world with the digital content created for the Layar platform.


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New German Magazine MEET Launches with Layar

Chris Cameron June 20, 2013

A brand new magazine from Hubert Burda Media, Germany’s largest magazine publisher, has launched complete with Layar’s interactive print from the start.

The magazine – MEET – is a lifestyle publication aimed at male “foodies,” and launched with a circulation of 70,000 earlier this month. Readers can use Layar to scan the pages of the magazine – filled not only with man-centric recipies, but also manly lifestyle suggestions – to gain access to bonus digital content, including shopping lists and videos.

The inclusion of interactive print in a newly launched title from the start is a strong indicator of the growth in popularity of Layar’s technology and interactive print as a whole. We’re very excited to see continued growth into the German market, especially with a brand new title such as this.

The magazine is published by Burda Community Network, part of Hubert Burda Media which is a leading German publisher and printer. It’s a huge sign of approval for interactive print to have such a large publisher unveil an entirely new brand with Layar’s technology.

You can find MEET and Eat Like a Man on newsstands in Germany now!


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Introducing: Layar’s Campaign Review Service

Chris Cameron June 19, 2013

With the Layar Creator just over one year old, we’ve already seen a wealth of wonderful and creative interactive print campaigns from our over 40,000 Creator publishers. As part of our continuing mission to provide the best products, services and support for augmented reality and interactive print, today we are launching our Campaign Review Service.

With this new service, we want to help publishers get the most out of their interactive print campaigns by sharing our expanding knowledge base of tips, tricks and best practices.

Our expert team can help publishers take their campaigns to the next level by providing a detailed, timely review of page quality, instructions, calls-to-action, content design and much more. Our vast interactive print experience can allow publishers to avoid common missteps, and to make sometimes small changes that can really make a big difference in the end!

Ready to kick your next campaign up a notch? Learn more about our Campaign Review Service or book a review today!


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Layar Opens Canadian Office

Chris Cameron June 19, 2013

Image by Benson Kua

For all of our Canadian Layar users, you’ll be excited to hear that we’ve recently opened a Canadian office in Toronto. The office will be run by Nigel Newton, Layar’s newly hired Country Manager for Canada.

The Canadian market has seen exceptional growth for us in recent months with nearly 1 million downloads of the Layar App and 1,000 users of the Layar Creator. Brands like Readers Digest, Nissan and Glacier Media have already begun using Layar to add interactivity to magazines, newspapers and other content in Canada to increase reader engagement and boost advertising revenue.

We’ve selected Nigel Newton from the Layar Partner Network to lead our market development in Canada. Newton introduced interactive print to the mainstream Canadian media in 2012 while leading innovative newspaper advertising projects with Postmedia, Canada’s largest publisher of English language newspapers. In 2012, Newton was also involved in organizing our Activate Print Toronto seminar with the Dutch Embassy. He has proven to be an expert on interactive print.

As interactive print continues to grow worldwide, we are very excited to continue our expansion into the North American market, but best of all is how our Toronto office will better serve our users and customers in Canada and North America.

Nigel’s expertise and proximity to the Canadian market provides easier access to our wealth of knowledge, insights and services, including our Campaign Review Service. This all-new service gives you opportunity to take your campaigns to the next level. Click here to learn more.


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