It feels like every week some new technology bounds into our lives like a big dog and licks our faces. Which is fun until it's ten dogs, or twenty. So when I heard about Augmented Reality, I thought, "What the heck is that? I have enough trouble dealing with Regular Reality."
Augmented Reality is an electronically-generated layer of information over physical objects. A better explanation is this 30 second video of Legos. You hold up the box and the computer shows you a picture of what the object will look like when it's built.
(Here's the link if the video doesn't work.)
Most Augmented Reality uses smart phones like the iPhone and Droid paired with a software application, but a laptop computer with a webcam can also work. You might aim your phone at a movie poster and a preview will run on your phone's screen. Or aim it at a house that's for sale and see information about when it was built, how many rooms it has, and the asking price. Or aim at a restaurant and see their menu and prices. There are many possibilities.
A lot of articles I've read predict AR will move from your phone to a set of glasses with a heads-up display like a fighter pilot uses. And eventually, contact lens may replace the glasses, or at least provide a less bulky option.
I think the real hurdle for AR right now is simply introducing people to the idea and helping them understand it. The key will be to make it useful in their daily lives.
So the next time you see someone aiming their smart phone at a building, they may not be taking a picture. They may be reading the menu.
(Here's a helpful video that demonstrates different uses of AR. And a great explanation from commoncraft.com)