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Reality Bytes: Remaking the World with our Mobiles

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One of the truly great things about augmented reality - or AR for short - is its almost endless potential to refresh our take on the simple, everyday things in life by effectively them for our digital age. I'm talking about the little things around us that we've always taken for granted. The things we use or refer to for a moment before disregarding, too often without a second thought. The drinks bottle on your desk for example, the direct mail from a charity that's waiting when you get home, the stamp on its envelope. Even the crisp notes in your pocket.

All these things can now be augmented with a digital layer that invites us to look through the lens of our smartphones and see them in an entirely new way - as a direct gateway to digital information of one kind or another. A great example of AR's repositioning of the everyday offline as always online is Ministry of Sound's use of augmented reality to bring its club flyers to life as part of its 21st birthday celebrations.

The humble flyer hasn't changed much since back in the day when Ministry first opened its gates but now, when viewed through AR, the flyers transform into digital triggers from which clubbers can download tracks from the DJs featured on the line-up and get a taste of the night ahead. It's a fantastic use of augmented reality, bringing together an everyday object with its digital aura around a real customer point of need.

Blurring the digital divide
Remember the old days - before the launch of the iPhone? Back then, we used to talk about online and offline but not anymore. Now with mobile AR, everything is potentially online and the consumer's smartphone is at the nexus. With our always at hand smartphones, we can unlock music downloads from a drinks can, live twitter feed from a delegate badge or find out more about a historical figure simply by clicking on a bank note.

Suddenly the mundane becomes multimedia and - here's the ground breaking bit - measurable. All these interactions with the physical world can be counted, analysed and optimised as easily as a visit to a website - giving brands and organisations a completely new insight on our interests and engagement. And how long before we as consumers begin to expect as standard an optimised digital layer around the product packaging, leaflets and various flotsam and jetsam of everyday life?

Recipe for AR Success
Opening up this brave new digital territory introduces totally new questions about what's an appropriate use for this new medium and what's not. Just as in the early days of the internet, some companies will inevitably take the opportunity to brand hijack the world around us in a bid for a moment of specious notoriety. Most however will play with this new medium in good faith, choosing to reinvent our relationship with the common place by reframing it in a digital context and adding value.

And of course, smartphone users themselves will set the terms of this new technology's use, as they augment the everyday things they find out there in the wild. While writing this blog, I spotted some tweets about an augmented cake, emanating from *surprise* a London agency's creative department. I reached out and found the team had had a quick brainstorm about how best to mark a colleague's immanent birthday and someone mentioned they could get a graphic printed on rice paper for a cake. That's when they hit on the idea of augmenting it.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The team bundled out of the office, threw some awesome shapes in the car park in front of a camera and hey presto, a video for the cake was born. The whole process from initial idea to augmented birthday surprise took just a few hours and of course the colleague loved it.

There's still a world of things that haven't been augmented yet and with a little imagination, it's entirely possible to break new ground. So if you're inspired and thinking of trying your hand at making your own augmented reality, just roll your sleeves up and have a go. It really is a piece of cake.

To view the aura, download the free Aurasma Lite app to your smartphone or tablet. Then open your device's browser and type in the url: http://tinyurl.com/huffcake

Now you're subscribed to the cake's content - just point your device at the image of the cake on screen to view.