For a while, I’ve wanted to blog about Layar, the augmented-reality aggregation app, but seems every time I start, the app changes. And not always for the better. In the game of geosocial media, Layar is like that young baseball pitcher with all the talent in the world but still working on his delivery.
Put simply, the Layar app lets you see what’s happening around you in several layers — who’s tweeting, who’s posted pictures or YouTube videos near you, what Gowalla locations exist, where to eat, where to drink, where crime is happening (the scariest one), who’s looking for love (or maybe that’s the scariest one?), etc. Sounds like a lot of great hyperlocal stuff, eh?
Hypothetically it would be, if the app had even decent usability. You’re allowed to select favored layers, but have to access and use each one separately through not-quite-intuitive navigation. Sometimes it will show hits around you but they won’t come up in either the list nor map views. Sometimes it says you’re nowhere near where you actually are. And just when you’ve figured out its latest reinvention, Layar seems to change the way it functions.
Note that Layar had layer functionality before Foursquare added its layer for users around you. And Foursquare toyed with a partnership with Layar — which, given its greater use than Gowalla, could have been promising — but a beta version that doesn’t work for all devices is as much as I ever saw. And while Layar theoretically offers more functionality than augmented reality competitor Yelp — which focuses on local points of interest and reviews — it’s nowhere near as reliable or easy to use.
One interesting thing about Layar, which also points to its potential, is how it resembles an app store within an app. Many of the popular layers are free, but Layar also offers paid layers, such as guides to Walt Disney World, an “EyeTour” of Puerto Rico, a service for finding local deals and even augmented-reality greeting cards. Thus, unlike Foursquare and its ilk, Layar has a built-in monitization avenue … if it can score a decent adoption rate and develop apps people find of value.
With all its power and potential, it’s too soon to know where Layar will go. To return to the baseball analogy, it could flourish into a Stephen Strasburg or flounder like a Hideki Irabu. But there’s enough going on both within Layar and the whole geosocial game that this app remains worth watching.