Pay attention to augmented reality

Is augmented reality going to be the Next Big Thing? A lot of people think so, as all the increasing talk is helping the topic rapidly ascend the Technology Trigger in Gartner’s 2009 hype cycle for emerging technologies published last month.

I wrote about this topic in July. Now it’s one I keep seeing popping up everywhere.

With so much hype already, and the build-up increasing, what’s the best way to grasp what augmented reality means in a practical sense in your daily life?

Here’s one way – a video published last week by Layar, a Dutch company at the forefront of AR on mobile devices, and video tourism company EyeTour. It shows what you could do with an AR ‘layer’ on a mobile device as you tour a city (San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the example).

I think it’s a great illustration of how augmented reality could be of distinct use in a pragmatic way: you’re in a new city, you can interactively find out information about your surroundings with your mobile device, in real time – tourist spots, historical sites, museums and parks, photo galleries and videos at the points of interest.

See what you think of this:

I think you can immediately grasp how useful AR would be for this kind of activity, especially on a mobile device. I first heard about Layar from Tom Raftery.

This emerging technology first caught my attention a few months ago with two examples, both of which I wrote about – first, in June, James Alliban’s augmented reality business card (which I heard about when I wrote about making business cards become smart cards); and second, in July, IBM’s Seer beta for G1 and G2 Android phones (which I mentioned, almost in passing, in a post about IBM’s Wimbledon app for iPhone).

How important will this technology be? Where will it impact our lives? What implications should we as communicators consider?

Big questions and I have no immediate answers other than this: I’m paying attention to augmented reality, hopefully seeing through the increasing hype, so I can better understand it and, therefore, make better sense of what it might mean.

It’s early days still. But just seeing who’s already doing what, and how developments are rapidly moving, this is something we ought to keep an active eye on.

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