Augmented reality (AR) concepts have been teasing and tempting iPhone users for a while. For example, Presselite released an AR guide for the Paris Metro system a short time ago. That technology has now grown into Bionic Eye, an AR location finding application for 3GS users which covers numerous cities around the world.
After downloading it, we took a walk around our local city centre using Bionic Eye to guide us from place to place. A harder test would be to use it in a new, unfamiliar city, but for now we're going to stay closer to home.
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When we first started Bionic Eye up we were told there were no points of interest (POI) nearby. A quick check of the settings revealed that all of the POI options were turned off by default. Each different option had to be turned on individually. As there are so many, an 'All on/off' switch would have been much appreciated here.
Once that was done, the app was impressively fast to locate where we were standing and bring up the overlays onto the camera's image. Better yet, they all seemed to be in roughly the right direction.
Pointing the camera at the floor brings up a list of the nearby attractions. If you select one, you'll then be given an arrow that always points towards it whenever the phone is aimed at the ground. Well, it mostly points towards it – it's based on the iPhone 3GS' magnetometer, which can get a little temperamental at times, but not enough to spoil the experience. If you do get confused, just hit 'Map' to bring up your location in Google Maps.
THIS WAY SIR: Well, it's slightly less touristy than folding out a map
Bring the iPhone up from your feet and Bionic Eye switches smoothly to the 'signpost' view. The POI you selected for directions will have a blue outline the same colour as the arrow, while nearby POI's are shown with a yellow ring under them.
We think this would be better the other way around, as the blue outline is too hard to see in sunlight and the sign can be hidden by others if there are lots of others around. The yellow rings, on the other hand, are pretty hard to miss.
HIDDEN GEMS: To your left, half the city
There's more that feels like it could be developed further. In the current version, signs can occasionally skip around a little, or get stuck as showing in front of you even when you've walked past your destination.
TOUCHÉ: You win this round, Bionic Eye
Custom images for tourist destinations would be nice, because the generic camera logo can get confusing when there are five next to each other in front of you. The settings mode also has a slider for what distance it should draw the POI's from, but no confirmation of what you've set it to. In addition, the 'Back' button that takes you to the start-up menu is awfully easy to hit instead of the cross that cancels your current POI selection. However, these are all pretty minor points in truth, and easily fixed.
SEEING DOUBLE: Uh, which of these should I aim for?
A large amount of POI's, including various chain restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions, are available in the 59p app, but London Tube and London Bus options are available as in-app purchases. We quite like that Presselite's done it this way, as it cuts down on superfluous extra apps for each of these individually, but keeps Bionic Eye at an 'impulse buy' price for those outside the capital.
CITY LIFE: Turning on the London Tube and Bus options allows you to purchase the extra POIs
Ultimately, Bionic Eye feels like an unrefined version of what will be a very solid app. Despite that, it's important to remember that this isn't a tech demo or concept we're talking about here. It's actually running on a phone, smoothly and without crashing. The fact that it's available at all is pretty remarkable. That it works so well is nothing short of amazing.