Which makes sense, because I put it there. The giant floating gold-foil-wrapped Easter bunnies, on the other hand, make no sense at all.

Augmented reality is very weird.

I’ve been playing with Layar’s Hoppala Augmentation service (with a hat tip to Fiacre O’Duinn at Library Bazaar). Via the web interface I placed an object in an augmented reality layer: an Easter egg in the demo “Hoppala goes Easter” layer. Then I installed the iPhone app, found the right layer (search “Easter”), and strolled through the Quad on my way to the LRT. It looked like this:

It was distinctly bizarre to look through the little window into an alternate world where this huge red egg floated along the path beside me. Freaksville. And people give you odd looks when you walk around the Quad holding your phone out at eye level. When you explain, though, that you’re watching the giant floating Easter egg, and that the floating chocolate bunnies aren’t your fault, people leave you alone.

This was my first experience using an augmented reality app with live GPS positioning. I must say, it’s disappointing in an entirely predictable way. GPS on a phone is rough, and the accuracy of your position changes from moment to moment. That means the egg moves around a lot as you walk, and its position in the middle of the Quad is only approximate, because the app’s sense of your position is only approximate. When building an augmented reality application, you’ll have to take into account that your users may not see your stuff exactly where you want them to, and your stuff might shift unexpectedly instead of smoothly panning and zooming to match the viewer’s movements. I’ll have to give up my fantasy of neatly overlaying an historical image over the corresponding contemporary view, like this set from the National Library of Ireland, where the juxtaposition of past and present is so immediate it makes your heart ache. Or maybe there are ways for the app to work around the limitations of a phone’s GPS.

Anyway, if you’re around U of A and you have an iPhone or Android phone, go to the Quad and check out the egg. And the bunnies. Maybe they do something if you click them. Do you think I should click one? Maybe I should go back and click one.