Smartphone apps are getting smarter

Show caption
/

A new wave of smartphone apps that use technology to provide more information about the user’s surroundings are gaining in popularity and should top 2.5 billion downloads per year by 2017, an interactive media expert said Tuesday.

Rob Hudak, interactive creative director with Zehnder Communications, said if that pace holds, that’s 3.5 times more than the wildly popular Angry Birds smartphone app was downloaded in 2011. Hudak made his comments at a monthly investor luncheon organized by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Hudak called the apps “augmented reality” because they enhance the real-world experience. One of the most familiar examples of augmented reality is the bright yellow first-down marker superimposed on the turf that has become a staple of football telecasts.

While some forms of augmented reality, such as the first-down line, are based on technology interacting with markers, there is a growing trend toward location-based applications, which use the sophisticated global positioning devices in smartphones.

Hudak said one of the first examples of location-based augmented reality came in Amsterdam and was used to sell houses. Potential homebuyers could point their smartphone at a house and get information about the price and amenities.

Zehnder was one of the first five outside companies to get to use the technology developed by Layar, a Dutch company that pioneered location-based augmented reality.

Hudak said Zehnder used this access to develop smartphone apps for a variety of clients, such as the Voodoo Music Festival. The Voodoo app would not only display what bands were playing on what stages at what times, but it provided directions to food booths and restrooms.

Zehnder also did an app tied to the DVD release of “Battle: Los Angeles,” a movie that was shot in Louisiana and dealt with an alien invasion. The “Battle: Los Angeles” app put up images of aliens and spaceships in the user’s surroundings. In just over the first month of release, Hudak said the app was used over 150,000 times. Hudak showed a map that had points of everywhere the app was used on Earth. The app was heavily used in North America, Europe and Asia and even on small islands in the middle of the ocean.

The next step is development of augmented reality apps that are used for shopping. People could point their phones at a spot, and an image of a product for purchase would appear on the screen. This could allow retailers to put in pop-up stores in small spaces, Hudak said.

For Hudak, the development of augmented reality apps shows the evolution of the Internet and the move away from wanting people to spend as much time in front of a computer looking at a website. Now, designers are developing apps that are useful and help people better navigate the world around them, he said.