By Tarmo Virki, European Technology Correspondent
(Reuters) - Metaio, one of the leaders in augmented reality (AR) technology, on Thursday opened its platform to chipset vendors and software developers for free, hoping to boost its position in the emerging sector.
The closely held German firm said it had also reached the first milestone in its collaboration with two major mobile chipset vendors, making its AR platform work on chipsets of Texas Instruments and ST-Ericsson.
AR, which overlays images of the real world with computer-generated input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data, was made familiar by Hollywood movies such as Terminator and The Matrix, and is becoming a new battleground for top chipset vendors. It can be used in smartphones and tablets, PCs and head-mounted devices.
"We believe AR will become a basic demand in mobile devices in the future," Bjorn Ekelund, head of ecosystems and research, at ST-Ericsson, said in the statement.
Metaio's move follows similar step from Qualcomm, which opened its platform earlier this year for developers.
Intel is working with Total Immersion, Metaio's key rival, to add AR features to its chipsets.
Metaio also has a partnership with chip designer ARM to get the AR features deeper into the technology.
Moving AR features closer to the hardware will make them faster to use and could boost adoption of the technology among consumers as it would be in all devices, without the need for additional downloads.
"In our view, by 2014 all smartphones will have the technological basis to use AR," Metaio's co-founder Thomas Alt said in an interview.
Metaio hopes opening the platform to thousands of developers will help find new uses for the technology.
In one of the most simple examples, AR browsers, a phone's location is used to add information from the user's surroundings to the screen. Dutch company Layar's AR browser has reached more than 10 million downloads, mostly on Google's Android platform.
Despite the millions of downloads, Layar has not been able to build a business model around the browser and has started to shift its business towards the media sector, where AR has also started to gain traction in advertisements.
Advertisers have started to use the technology to overlay still adds with moving images, like filmstars popping up on your phone screen with a scene from the latest movie when you point to the magazine cover with your phone.
Metaio said it would give its toolkit, which it said was worth around $20,000, and had been used to create more than 70 applications and total downloads of more than 10 million, while it would continue to sell additional features to developers.
(Editing by Will Waterman)