Layar Shifts Focus From AR to Print, But Has Hopes for Geo-Located Future

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7934730When Layar launched in 2010, a lot of excitement about the Dutch company stemmed from its augmented reality browser. The concept was simple: open the Layar app, hold up your phone and aim its camera, and learn information about your surroundings.

But while the app proved very cool to local-focused techies, it didn’t quite catch on with regular users the way that it needed to.

“What we’ve learned with the phone is that people will hold up their phone and look at the Layar once, but the second time is so difficult,” co-founder Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald told Street Fight recently via Skype. “You really need a good use case, a lot of calls to action. You need to give something unique and special and lots of reminders. We haven’t seen that yet.”

So after a pivot, the company is now focusing on its other product, Vision, which assists publishers in augmenting a print product with digital information. The idea is the same, except that instead of holding the phone up to a physical space, a user looks down at a magazine or newspaper and sees whatever the publisher adds to the page. Publications including The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, and Reader’s Digest Canada have signed on. Downloads of the app are over 28 million and 35,000 people are using the Layar Creator, which the company launched in July and simplifies the process. Best of all, says Lens-Fitzgerald, users are now returning to Layar multiple times.

“With Vision, we like that people are really getting into it. We see the re-usage,” he says.

Still, Layar has not given up finding a niche in the geo-location market. The co-founder sees an increasing interest in the location space. “People are really getting into geo, especially in the U.S.,” he says. “We don’t promote [the product anymore], but we do think that specifically with Google Glass coming online, there may be some more applications for it. We definitely are keeping tabs on it.” Lens-Fitzgerald notes that there’s no compass in Google Glass yet, but that didn’t stop his company from ordering one of the headsets to experiment with.

With Google Glass on the horizon and the increasing focus on location and mobile, Layar’s initial idea could become popular again in the near future. In fact, Lens-Fitzgerald thinks print could be the key for re-starting the geo-location side of the business: “Publications could be a great way to start a geo experience. They are in your face,” he says.

Noah Davis is a senior editor at Street Fight.