Claire Beale: Multi-layered reality could be an easy sell

Ever since Tom Cruise showed us in Minority Report a future where reality is a multi-layered experience, gadget geeks have been waiting for technology to deliver on Hollywood's promise.

Now virtual reality is about to become an actual reality for anyone with the right sort of mobile phone after Telefonica, the parent company of O2, signed a revolutionary deal last week with the tech company Aurasma.

Aurasma has developed a virtual reality platform that recognises images and objects in the real world and responds by layering new information on top. So if Aurasma's technology is embedded into your mobile phone, when you point your phone at an image it can recognise, it will automatically unlock relevant interactive digital content.

For brands, this type of kit has some pretty significant implications. It means that commercial messages can now live in the ether around us, waiting to be activated by our mobiles. If your phone registers a recognised image such as a building, a poster or a promotional sticker in a store, say, it will play out videos, 3D animations or money-off coupons to entice you to buy.

The Aurasma technology has recently been used by a string of UK magazines and newspapers, from Heat to Tatler, to deliver video content to readers and allow advertisers to make their press ads interactive so that readers can shop from the page. But going mobile is a crucial next step.

This sort of location-based marketing is a major leap forwards for marketers because it will enable them to deliver engaging, rich content right where people can actually buy their products. So the TV commercial that you usually see from your sofa when you're not thinking about what to buy for dinner on Saturday night can now reach out to you when you're walking past Sainsbury's on Saturday morning.

Forecasts suggest that the augmented reality market could be worth as much as $600bn (£370bn) within five years as it transforms the power of advertising and marketing. But critics have branded the technology gimmicky and point to the failure of similarly "revolutionary" digital marketing tools such as Second Life.

The difference here, particularly once O2 starts to embed the Aurasma app into handsets, is one of portability and ubiquity. We might not all want to stand in front of Tesco watching an interactive film for sausages. But if we do, it will soon be as easy as making a phone call.

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