iPhone Camera Overlay App With Custom Button Example

There seems to be a lot of interest recently in making apps that use a camera view with an overlay for augmented reality or what some might call pseudo-augmented reality applications (because often these apps just layer an image or data on a camera view). I wasn’t satisfied with the few examples I found on the topic so I decided to try one myself. I will endeavour to make it as clear as I can and show you how to make a custom button while I am at it, but I do assume a basic knowledge of Objective-C and iPhone app development in Xcode.

Screenshot 2009.12.10 18.46.38 200x300 iPhone Camera Overlay App With Custom Button Example

OverlayViewTester screenshot

So first I will describe the OverlayViewTester app. Basically it just overlays some cool looking red selection braces on a camera view and has a button that when pressed performs a ‘scan’ for two seconds and lets you know by adding a “Scanning…” label at the top of the screen during that time. So really it does nothing, but it looks good and is a good first step to making a more fun and interesting interactive camera overlay app.

To get started, download the source code. Next I will go through the files in the project and present the juicy bits. Consult the source code you downloaded for the full meal deal.


Taking a look at the project we start with a typical app delegate, OverlayViewTesterAppDelegate which loads the OverlayViewController. Nothing monumental there so I won’t bother reproducing it here.


Now on to the OverlayViewController where we create the camera view.

In the interface, OverlayViewController.h: we define some constants:

// Transform values for full screen support:
//#define CAMERA_TRANSFORM_Y 1.12412 //use this is for iOS 3.x
#define CAMERA_TRANSFORM_Y 1.24299 // use this is for iOS 4.x

// iPhone screen dimensions:
#define SCREEN_WIDTH  320
#define SCREEN_HEIGTH 480

In the implementation, OverlayViewController.m there is a bit of a GOTCHA. The line

[self presentModalViewController:picker animated:YES];

must be called in viewDidAppear: not in a viewDidLoad: method. Here it is:

- (void) viewDidAppear:(BOOL)animated {
    OverlayView *overlay = [[OverlayView alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectMake(0, 0, SCREEN_WIDTH, SCREEN_HEIGTH)];

    // Create a new image picker instance:
    UIImagePickerController *picker = [[UIImagePickerController alloc] init];

    // Set the image picker source:
    picker.sourceType = UIImagePickerControllerSourceTypeCamera;

    // Hide the controls:
    picker.showsCameraControls = NO;
    picker.navigationBarHidden = YES;

    // Make camera view full screen:
    picker.wantsFullScreenLayout = YES;
    picker.cameraViewTransform = CGAffineTransformScale(picker.cameraViewTransform, CAMERA_TRANSFORM_X, CAMERA_TRANSFORM_Y);

    // Insert the overlay:
    picker.cameraOverlayView = overlay;

    // Show the picker:
    [self presentModalViewController:picker animated:YES];
    [picker release];

    [super viewDidAppear:YES];

I think the comments make it clear what is going on there.


Next lets look at the custom subclass of UIView called OverlayView. This is where we actually create our overlay.

In the interface, OverlayView.h we declare two new methods:

- (void)scanButtonTouchUpInside;
- (void)clearLabel:(UILabel *)label;

Here are the important parts of the implementation, OverlayView.m:

- (id)initWithFrame:(CGRect)frame {
    if (self = [super initWithFrame:frame]) {
        // Clear the background of the overlay:
	self.opaque = NO;
	self.backgroundColor = [UIColor clearColor];

	// Load the image to show in the overlay:
	UIImage *overlayGraphic = [UIImage imageNamed:@"overlaygraphic.png"];
	UIImageView *overlayGraphicView = [[UIImageView alloc] initWithImage:overlayGraphic];
	overlayGraphicView.frame = CGRectMake(30, 100, 260, 200);
	[self addSubview:overlayGraphicView];
	[overlayGraphicView release];

	ScanButton *scanButton = [[ScanButton alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectMake(130, 320, 60, 30)];

	// Add a target action for the button:
	[scanButton addTarget:self action:@selector(scanButtonTouchUpInside) forControlEvents:UIControlEventTouchUpInside];
	[self addSubview:scanButton];
    return self;

- (void) scanButtonTouchUpInside {
    UILabel *scanningLabel = [[UILabel alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectMake(100, 50, 120, 30)];
    scanningLabel.backgroundColor = [UIColor clearColor];
    scanningLabel.font = [UIFont fontWithName:@"Courier" size: 18.0];
    scanningLabel.textColor = [UIColor redColor];
    scanningLabel.text = @"Scanning...";

    [self addSubview:scanningLabel];

    [self performSelector:@selector(clearLabel:) withObject:scanningLabel afterDelay:2];

    [scanningLabel release];

- (void)clearLabel:(UILabel *)label {
    label.text = @"";

Notice that we have used an instance of ScanButton which we will get to next. When the ScanButton detects a UIControlEventTouchUpInside it calls the scanButtonTouchUpInside method which places a label on the screen for 2 seconds.


So finally we are left with our ScanButton. You might think that for a custom button we would subclass UIButton, but unless you really want to use the UIBUtton method setTitle:ForState it is recommended that you subclass UIControl. It will save you a world of hurt.

Here is the interface, ScanButton.h:

#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>

@interface ScanButton : UIControl {

- (void)buttonPressed;


I put the buttonPressed method in here for future use. It is meant to be used to change things related to the button itself and not the actions associated with the button in the OverlayViewController. You could for example use it to have the button’s image or state or both toggle.

Last but not least we have the implementation, ScanButton.m:

#import "ScanButton.h"

@implementation ScanButton

- (id)initWithFrame:(CGRect)frame {
    if (self = [super initWithFrame:frame]) {
	// Set button image:
	UIImageView *buttonImage = [[UIImageView alloc] initWithFrame:CGRectMake(0, 0, 60, 30)];
	buttonImage.image = [UIImage imageNamed:@"scanbutton.png"];

	[self addTarget:self action:@selector(buttonPressed) forControlEvents:UIControlEventTouchUpInside]; // for future use

        [self addSubview:buttonImage];
    return self;

- (void)buttonPressed {
    // TODO: Could toggle a button state and/or image


So there you have it. A custom camera overlay and a custom button. I hope that with this code you will be well on your way to writing much more useful, interesting and creative apps than this example. Happy coding!

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