Old Lumias get Nokia’s new City Lens augmented reality app

One of the more innovative features of Nokia’s(s nok) new Lumia phones is now available for prior models. The company released its City Lens software to the Windows Phone Marketplace; free for Lumia 710, 800 and 900 handsets. The app, in beta since May, uses augmented reality to provide on-screen information about the handset’s surroundings.

Here’s how Nokia describes the software:

“Nokia City Lens is Nokia’s location-based augmented reality application. Using the phone’s camera viewfinder, Nokia City Lens provides an augmented reality overlay view of buildings and instantly highlights places of interest.

It basically turns sight into the next interface for searching the world around you. The app then provides information about each building or landmark in the area giving the user an at-a-glance understanding of what restaurants, museums, shops and others places of interest are nearby.”

This app is small consolation to older Lumia handset owners as it was learned in June that the devices wouldn’t be upgradable to Windows Phone 8(s msft), expected in late October. Nokia did promise, however, that the old Lumias would get new software features in addition to a Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade, which brings greater customization to the smartphone’s home screen. And from the looks of it, City Lens is a nice addition as well:


We’ve seen these types of augmented reality apps before, such as Yelp’s monocle feature and the Layar browser, but a few things stand out when I look at City Lens. Firstly, Nokia is going where only third-party developers have tread before. I can’t think of another handset maker that is putting this type of technology front and center by creating its own app.

Nokia Lumia 920 smartphonesSecond, Nokia didn’t just build an AR app. Instead, it has integrated the software heavily with the hardware on its new Lumia 920 and then made it available on the older handsets.

To use these types of apps, you need a solid camera system and Nokia surely has that in its Lumia line. The new Lumias use Nokia’s PureView technology, but even the older Lumia devices have very capable sensors. Navigation functionality is important as well and as can you see in the video demo, the City Lens software takes advantage of Nokia’s expertise here. Finally, tying the application to the Lumia’s accelerometer doesn’t just change the display orientation of the app; it actually dictates which functionality you get from the software.

While it’s still disappointing that older Lumias won’t see Windows Phone 8, kudos to Nokia for sharing some of its most innovative software and services with what’s now legacy smartphone hardware.