The company behind the much-hyped Layar Augmented Reality browser has decided to withdraw its iPhone app from the iTunes App Store due to repeated crashes reported by users. Layar had been the most eagerly anticipated entrant yet into the field of AR, a class of technologies that place data from the web on top of a camera view of the physical world. AR has been big this year, from Layar’s hyped launch to Yelp’s sneaking the first AR app into the iTunes store to Lonely Planet and even McDonalds announcing their own AR apps this week.
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.
Layar remains available and robust in its Android version. Its primary competitor is probably Wikitude. Of course there are countless AR apps that are available on the iPhone, Android, webcam and other platforms – but Layar has been the most publicly visible AR app yet. It symbolizes the popular vision for AR, which in reality often feels more clunky than demo videos suggest. People who believe the leading examples of AR apps are heavy on hype and light on engineering have another data point now.
The current crop of Augmented Reality apps – high-profile map overlays for smartphones like the iPhone – are criticized as lightweight and overhyped by many AR pros that have been working on more heavy-duty applications intended for more technical use. Many of those critics haven’t shipped products, though, and Layar has done more than all but a few other companies to extend public awareness of the Augmented Reality concept.
Blake Callens, an AR software engineer at the company that created the Webcam Social Shopper, has been very critical of the crop of consumer smartphone AR apps popping up. He’s called them “innacurate mobile browsers and web based eye candy”. Callens’ comments aren’t directly aimed at Layar, but Layar does symbolize the most visible part of the AR market for many people.
“Seriously, hand me a 3D model and I can literally throw it in AR in 5 minutes. It’s hardly a ‘stunning’ example at all,” Callens writes “And yet, at least once a week, I see someone else pimping their new, ‘totally awesome’ AR app that’s nothing more than a 3D model dancing around.”
We like Layar, but as the most high-profile AR app on the market, it doesn’t reflect well on the state of the industry for the company to have to pull its app from iTunes.