Augmented reality takes Yelp’s new phone app to the next level

photo courtesy of Metro Macs Kansas City

photo courtesy of Metro Macs Kansas City

Think of reality as a spectrum. On one end, we have the real world. At the other end is the computer-generated environment of virtual reality. Augmented reality falls somewhere in the middle, with real-time, computer-generated audio, video, and other sense enhancements superimposed on the physical world.

In its simplest form, augmented reality has been around for decades– think of the graphics that display the score and countdown clock over a televised football game. With the advent of the latest generation of Apple’s iPhone, phone apps are taking augmented reality to the next level, and Yelp is the first to bring it to the US.

In late August, when Yelp, the city guide and user-review service, released an upgraded version of its iPhone app, it snuck a hidden, unsanctioned feature through Apple’s App Store approval process. Referred to as an “Easter egg,” in reference to the Fabege eggs collected by the Russian imperial family that often contained hidden, bejeweled gifts within, the Yelp app contains an augmented reality feature called Monocle that is activated by giving three good shakes to an iPhone 3GS. Monocle utilizes the iPhone’s camera, GPS, and digital compass to overlay the virtual content of Yelp onto your real world environment. Point it down the street and your live screen view is overlaid with business listings and pertinent information about your location. Point it at a business and you’ll have instant access to ratings, reviews, and contact information.

Apple plans to fully embrace augmented reality with the release of version 3.1 of its iPhone software, but was unprepared for the under-the-radar approach of the Yelp app development team. Regardless of how you feel about the methodology — and there are many who believe that in subverting the approval process, Yelp will ultimately force Apple into lengthier and more stringent reviews of new applications– Yelp has unleashed new potential in phone apps.

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