Augmented reality (AR) is the superimposition of computer-generated data onto the physical world to add information and enhance perception. Currently it is media mediated, laying a strata of data over video images, and is promising to become a vital part of the mobile and gaming markets. While augmented reality has thus far been specialized and theoretical, several AR devices have been recently been announced or released for the iPhone and Android, and it looks like mainstream adoption AR is around the corner (OK, it's a long corner, but it's still a corner).

TonchiDot’s Sekai Camera for the iPhone, a “real and virtual world interface” demoed at Techcrunch50, allows you to tag the real world. Information tags on the camera screen offer information about location: if you’re at a mall, point the camera at a restaurant and its menu will pop up on the screen; point it at a street and information about stores, sales, or restaurants will appear. It's also social – anyone can tag specific items in real time.

Wikitude AR Travelguide, developed by Austria-based Mobilizy combines the Android’s GPS and internal compass to act as a real-time travel guide. Point the phone’s camera at one of the 350,000 points of interest and Wikipedia information will appear on the screen.

From Montenegro, RjDj is an aural AR iPhone app that “connects the outside world to your acoustic perception.” Creating soundscapes through the real-time manipulation of the sonic environment, or using the iPhone’s accelerometer to make crazy breakbeats by moving or shaking the phone, RjDj has been accurately described as “a soundtrack of your life” and “digital drugs”; both are fitting descriptions of this amazing application.

ARToolWorks in April released a in iPhone toolkit that adds interactive virtual objects to the camera screen’s view to create a virtual environment.  Enkin for Google Android uses integrates location-specific information in its “live mode” to show direction and distance. Evernote allows for text search in photos, even reading hand-written notes.

A glimpse into AR’s possibilities for gaming will come next year with Sony’s EyePet, announced in August, uses the PS3’s PS Eye camera to create a virtual pet that interacts with the real-world environment.

Truly, the internet of things is closer than we think and, with that, perhaps the beginning of the breakdown of techno-platonism in the popular imagination.

By Mark Alvarez