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This leads to one of the early lessons of AR marketing: campaigns promoting entertainment are a more natural fit for the technology. During Halloween weekend of 2009, about 7,000 people attending a New Orleans multistage musical event called Voodoo Experience held up their phones to a stage to see the lineup, the name of the current band, and an option to download the song being played. Pointing the phones toward food stands revealed the types of food served and the prices. The AR “layer” also displayed icons for restroom and ATM locations.

“We wanted to help people have more time enjoying the show and less time figuring out what was around them,” says Dave Maher, director of digital communications at Zehnder, the marketing agency that created the Voodoo and Cirque layers as well as about a dozen other AR campaigns.

The real-estate business should also be fertile ground for AR, because many people want to know prices and listing information for homes and buildings they pass by.

Paris-based real-estate agency, for instance, has captured attention for its Layar app that displays the value of buildings in Paris, regardless of whether they’re on sale or not. “We wanted to provide a new service for real-estate owners,” says Sebastien Lafond, the agency’s CEO. Launched more than a year ago, the app generated a lot of local buzz, but he says there’s been “no direct bottom-line impact.” That is not stopping him from moving ahead with the technology. Lafond is hoping to build a 3-D version in which browsers can view specific floors of buildings.

For that to happen, though, the GPS in phones must become much more accurate, he says. Many developers of AR apps have the same gripe: users might see text and graphics in front of the wrong real-world objects. To overcome some of those issues, wireless-equipment maker Qualcomm developed what it calls “vision-based” AR for phones. Rather than relying on GPS and compass information, the company is employing visual tracking software that can, for example, figure out the shape of a cereal box so that virtual objects can be placed right on it (see Q&A with the research chief of Qualcomm).

This fall, Qualcomm released a software development kit that programmers can use to build vision-based AR applications for Android phones; the company expects commercial campaigns based on the technology to kick off next year. “The vision-based AR that we’re offering is a fundamentally different user experience because the graphics appear very tightly aligned with the underlying object,” says Jay Wright, director of business development at Qualcomm. He says that such accuracy makes the AR experience far “more dramatic” and will help the technology become more effective in the business world.

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