The hype surrounding augmented reality (AR) technology is often dwarfed by coverage of 3D television,  but that may change once both are put into practice on a broad scale. AR could prove to change lives more profoundly, not only by locating subway stations or inviting Robert Downey Jr. into your cubicle, but also by providing information about anything or anyone at which you point your device.

The Sekai Camera iPhone app grabbed headlines in Japan last year, and several new Japanese applications may indicate what to expect in the coming decade. The Red Cross is using face-recognition software and anime hair to attract blood donors in Akihabara, and the pin@clip application is now being tested in Shibuya, allowing iPhone users to get real-time information on shopping and entertainment options in the buildings that users pass by.

AR technology has significant potential in retail and the creative industries. For example, the Mitsuo Aida Museum now has its own AR guide. The ¥800 price tag may sound steep for an iPhone application, but with it you get the guide, maps and free admission to the exhibit. This could easily cross over to galleries (and gallery districts) or even to shopping centers, where each store announces its bargains to those who point AR-equipped devices in their direction.

In another development, Japanese advertising giant, Hakuhodo, has teamed up with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper for an application that allows you to point your phone at ads in its pages and instantly receive extra video content. What makes this unique is that it doesn’t require a QR code, those grid-like squares that are slowly replacing the conventional barcodes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with QR codes. On the contrary, their ubiquity in Japan has brought about some creative applications. The codes can be found everywhere, and their minimalist, black & white design can often be more aesthetically pleasing than garish neon and “SALE!” signs. I’m all for QR codes becoming the norm, but once this process is complete and the old bar codes disappear, what will we call balding men’s hairstyles?

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