I have become obsessed by an iPhone application called Layar.
I first learned about Layar a few weeks ago when I spoke at the Marketing Pioneers event in Amsterdam.
Layar is a free application that uses your GPS location to show what is nearby by displaying real time information on top of the image on your mobile's camera (it works on other platforms besides the iPhone).
The founders of Layar call it "augmented reality." I call it "cool."
Watch this short video to see Layar in action.
How I use Layar
As I travel the world, I frequently find myself in an unfamiliar city looking for a meal. I usually get quite particular about what I'm looking for, saying to myself: "Tonight I think some Thai food will be good," (if I’m not too hungry) or "If I don't get some burritos in like ten minutes I'm gonna freak out," (when I am famished). My wife and daughter say I get mean when I'm hungry. Maybe so...
So when I've got to have Mexican food right now in an unfamiliar city, I open up the "Eat" layar (if I am in the U.S. at the time or its equivalent in other countries), point the camera at the street and see various restaurant names and locations pop up as a layars on top of the camera image. I can even see reviews in another layar. As I pan the camera around the city streets, other nearby restaurants pop into view with a marker on the building of it is visible in the camera so I can find a Mexican joint.
Here's why Layar is the coolest iPhone app in the world
Layar is an awesome mashup.
Layar combines your mobile camera with your GPS location plus huge data sets. The best way to think of Layar is like a cable television provider with your mobile as the television. The different content suppliers (there are hundreds) are like the different cable TV stations and the "shows" on that station are displayed depending on where you are at the time based on your GPS coordinates.
Layar is both truly global and hyper local.
The data sets come from all over the world. Yet you can find something valuable a few steps away from where you are right now. I think GPS-enabled devices with data applications become remarkable marketing platforms for all kinds of businesses—restaurants and bars, retail shops, health clubs, educational institutions, real estate, and more. Having the ability to deliver information to someone at the moment of need while they are nearby your business is a remarkable opportunity.
Layar is real-time.
Layar tells me what I need to know, now, when I need the information (like on a Thursday night in an unfamiliar city when I need a beer.)
Layar is built by entrepreneurs.
Layar is created by very small team of smart people in the Netherlands. I fear that if one of the humongous companies in the telecoms or software space had done this app it probably wouldn’t be the same. The proprietary stuff would come into play. And it would probably only work in one country.
Lots of content.
Layar already has a good content catalog which is growing very quickly. (Many good apps fail for lack of content.)
How one company partnered with Layar
Funda Real Estate, operator of the largest real-estate portal in the Netherlands worked with Layar to launch the first real estate portal within Layar, displaying information on nearly all the properties that are available for sale in the Netherlands. Funda Real Estate aggregates about 200,000 property listings at any one time from nearly all the real estate agencies in the country onto one Web site serving nearly a million unique visitors per month.
"With the Funda layar, we project houses for sale," says Jeroen Wilhelm, Marketing Director, Funda Real Estate, who I connected with in Amsterdam. "So if you look into a street with your naked eye, you'll see there are a couple of houses for sale because they have signs outside of the door. But if you look through the camera, the Funda layar presents dots on the location of each house that you see on the camera screen, giving you a real-time layar upon reality."
With the Funda real estate layar, if you click on the dot, you get information about the house: the price, the number of rooms, how many square meters, and contact information for the agent selling the home.
"People use it when they are in the street, look around and say, 'hey, this is nice neighborhood, this is a nice street, let's see what's for sale here'," Wilhelm says. "But there's more. If you're looking for a house, you might also be interested in checking out local restaurants and nearby clubs and you can do that using other layars giving a feel for if you might like living the neighborhood. It's a big mesh of databases, based on the location of the user, and it brings in a new dynamic."
How do you use layar?