BARCELONA, MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS 2012 — When I first spotted the Aurasma booth, I thought it was yet another annoying app to serve ads on top of the real world, using augmented reality. And it actually is. Only before I could walk away, I got caught by the enthusiastic marketing folks and found out that the app is actually very cool indeed.
Aurasma is a kind of cross between augmented reality and Instagram. It works like this: You point the app at anything: a painting, a product package, a building, and Aurasma will remember it. You then pick a video or photo or a 3-D rendering to show up over that real-world scene whenever you point your iPhone’s camera at it again.
So far, so whatever. The neat part comes with sharing. Anyone can follow you, like Instagram or Twitter, and then your “Auras” will available for them to see. You can also view them on a map to track things down.
It sounds simple, and it is. But from there the possibilities are endless. Advertising is one (and all ads are available to you — you don’t subscribe to them). Marketing, too: You could try an IKEA sofa in your living room without leaving the house, for example. Aurasma marketing boss Tamara Roukaerts shot a short video of me, and tied it to my photo on my business card (yeah. I have my photo on my business card. What about it?).
But the thing is growing out of hand. Lots of people are using it in education, for example. We saw several clips, one showing a five-year-old girl holding an iPad up to pictures drawn by other kids and seeing the pictures of the subjects of these drawings. Another clever project was a puzzle, made by a teacher. When a kid puts the colored shapes together correctly, the app will then recognize it and show a short animation as a reward. Kids — apparently — love this thing.
But it was only when we saw Tamara hamming it up and fighting a virtual Lion-O from Thundercats (photo above), and then getting kisses blown at her by Jessica Rabbit that we realized the real potential for this. Furries and fetishists are going to go crazy for this virtual dressing up box.
Aurasma is free, and Universal (and also available on Android). I’m off now to replace Cult of Mac Deputy Editor John Brownlee’s head with a picture of Alec Baldwin. There’s just something about his steely eyes.