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11/12/2008 - par Mark Tungate (tungateinparis@hotmail.com)

Reality is about to get more interesting. That's if you believe my friend Yuri van Geest, who I recently met at a conference in Tallin, Estonia. Yuri is an expert in Augmented Reality, or AR, which will be coming to your mobile phone very soon.
The technology is simpler than it sounds. It's a combination of GPS navigation systems – that talking box in your car – and mapping services like Google Earth. It works like this: imagine you're walking down an unfamiliar street in New York. You hold up your mobile phone and point its camera lens in front of you. On the screen of your mobile, you'll see the street as if you're about to take its photo. But you'll also see electronic tags popping up over all the buildings, like speech bubbles in cartoons. You can see opening times of shops and restaurants, links to reviews, or even entire menus. And if you're not interested, the screen will be able to tell you how far away the next metro stop is.
The next part is a bit scary. Eventually, Yuri tells me, users will be able to place their photograph and biographical information on a dedicated website. Then, when you point your phone at them on the street or in a bar, you'll see their name, star sign and interests on your screen. Whether anyone will sign up for such an invasion of privacy is another matter. But I think some consumers, particularly younger ones, will go for it. After all, with Facebook and Twitter, we're almost there already.

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