"Augmented reality" (AR) has experienced its first mass forays into advertising recently through innovative uses by General Electric to demonstrate its Smart Grid technology and by Topps to add 3-D effects to the classic 2-D baseball card.
AR is not new but it's evolving very rapidly to be more than a whizzy one-off. The GE and Topps examples were not even possible six months ago. And so, too, in the next six months there will be new uses of AR that make it more useful and natural.
One example of where AR could be going is Wikitude. Developed by Austrian company Mobilizy, Wikitude is mobile travel guide built as an application for the Google Android phones. The app overlays information from Wikipedia with your physical location. By holding the phone's camera against a landmark, Wikitude overlays on top of the image from the camera information about what it is seeing in real time.
This app uses AR technology to identify what it is seeing and place on top of it relevant information. A user could look out of an airplane window to see what he or she is flying over, or walk through a city and identify points of interests, or look out over a mountain range on the horizon to find names, heights and markers.
The mobile device becomes a link between physical location and real-time information from the web in a simple and instantaneous way.
Marketers should think about how to leverage this kind of technology in retail locations, on products or in static advertising -- linking their tangible assets with useful content from the web and added interactivity.
As devices become more powerful I expect there will be more intuitive and ubiquitous applications of this kind of technology, to the point that it will simply be impossible to differentiate from what we label today as "online" or "offline" marketing.
GE's digital hologram of Smart Grid technology:
Wikitude in action: