First Augmented Reality App for the iPhone Is Live

Several sources reported yesterday that the latest updates to the app Metro Paris Subway had (99 cents, iTunes link) appeared on the iTunes App Store, bringing it up to version 3.0. Amongst many nice new and updated features, this version also brings augmented reality to the iPhone, officially, for the first time.
So, it’s finally here. Augmented Reality (AR) has hit the iPhone, and nothing will ever be the same again. Prepare for the Future.
Except…don’t bother. Why, you ask?
Because it’s just not that exciting. It’s definitely cool, sure. But after the initial novelty wears off, you’ll be back to boasting to friends about how well Copy & Paste works on your $300 cell phone and, only if you remember (and only if you’re in the right geographical location), you might you fire up your AR app of choice.
To be clear, Metro Paris Subway isn’t designed to be an AR app first and foremost. It has been available for some time, and augmented reality functionality is just one of many new features added in the 3.0 update. Other features include support for push notifications, in-app purchases and quick-view disruption reporting via the application icon’s badges. It just so happens that the AR feature is the first of its kind to get official approval and distribution from Apple (s aapl).
AR is the new way of seeing the world. Put ever so simply, it’s made possible by the iPhone’s GPS, magnetometer and camera gathering their data together and comparing it with a database of geo-coordinates optionally tied to images of what’s at those coordinates. Yeah, that’s the simple overview. It can get far more complicated and nuanced than that, but the underlying premise remains the same irrespective of which platform or software you use.
The upshot is that you point your camera at, say, Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square and, in real time, overlaid on the image on your screen, a box appears telling you that you’re looking at Nelson’s Column. Another box tells you you’re standing in Trafalgar Square. Optional other boxes might tell you who tweeted there recently.
It sounds terribly exciting, but I suspect once you’ve used it once, the thrill will subside rather quickly.
Scoble recently said of the upcoming technology;

“Augmented Reality apps are about to become the HUGE rage on the iPhone. Why? They demo well.”

He’s quite correct. Take a look at this YouTube video of an augmented reality concept from The Astonishing Tribe:
Impressive, no?

Even More Impressive If You’re NOT American

I don’t know why, but AR is gaining more traction outside the States. In a TechCrunch article from the 17th of this month, it was noted how science fiction writer (and WIRED contributor) Bruce Sterling had:

“…pointed out that the biggest language bases for AR are actually Korean and Dutch with English coming in third. Similarly, the greatest interest is not in San Francisco but places like Singapore, Lisbon and Amsterdam. Could this be a new tech industry which does not revolve around Silicon Valley?”

Sterling reportedly referred to AR as a “technovisionary’s dream come true” but warned that, as with any big technology destined for the big time, it would be susceptible to:

“…the AR equivalents of spam and online criminality, the Gartner hype cycle, the environmental impact. [Sterling] imagined a ‘Crack dealers layer’ or ‘Neo-nazi’s occupation guide to Amsterdam’.”

I can already hear the plaintive wails of so-called “Privacy Advocates” who didn’t give a damn when AR apps appeared on Google’s (s goog) Android platform. But the iPhone is so much more popular and for most publications (even those not usually interested in technology), it’s fashionable to write about Apple and its products.
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before we see the App Store crowded with AR-enabled apps. Some of them will be great, and a small fraction of those will be revolutionary. But most, I expect, will be time and battery-draining garbage.