Telefónica bets on augmented reality with Aurasma tie-in

One of the platforms for that great unrealized piece of mobile tech, augmented reality, has just got a big boost. Aurasma, which was created by Autonomy in its pre-HP-acquisition days, has inked a deal with the Spanish telecoms giant Telefónica.

The deal will see Aurasma, which allows print and outdoor advertising to trigger interactive content through mobile apps, integrated into Telefónica Digital’s advertising services. Telefónica suggested that the functionality would plug into its location-based marketing and mobile couponing services.

The telco will also promote the Aurasma Android and iOS apps to its 300 million customers around the world.

“Augmented reality has the potential to fundamentally change advertising, transforming current static formats and introducing new levels of interactivity,” Telefónica Digital ad chief Shaun Gregory said in a statement.

Augmented reality is one of those technologies that seemed to be waiting for the advent of the smartphone, combining the camera with connectivity and a capable processor to overlay all sorts of imagery and interactive content on top of live, real-world imagery.

Yet, despite the early days producing innovative mash-ups of useful location-relevant information, it is now seen primarily as a marketing tool. Even the pioneering Layar is now pushing that as its primary angle.

Augmented realityAnd there’s no question that the technology fits with marketing particularly well. Last week Qualcomm gave me a demo of recent ads capitalizing on its Vuforia platform, a big rival to Aurasma. It’s quite something watching a model of a running shoe pop off the page, for example, then split into segments to show the customer how it’s built.

Advertisers are certainly keen. The Vuforia tech is used in 1,500 apps, and Aurasma’s in around 400. And the various layers of the mobile value chain are staking their bets too, as the keenness of Qualcomm and Telefónica demonstrates.

But it’s not something I see people doing in day-to-day life just yet, and that’s where the problem lies.

In a way, I would lump augmented reality in with QR codes, another mobile technology seized upon enthusiastically by advertisers and few others. Both technologies require the active participation of the consumer – you do not by default wander around with your phone held out in front of you.

On top of that, very few people I know would actively seek out enhanced advertising, unless there’s something in it for them. If augmented reality had taken off three or four years ago, through the fun and informative stuff it originally promised, perhaps people would be used to it by now. But they’re not, and advertising is a pretty lousy way to get people using a technology as a matter of course.

Perhaps the only way to truly make augmented reality a no-brainer is through something like Google Glass, which is in front of your eyes by default. Even then, would people want to frequently see enhanced ads jumping around in their field of vision? Some may; many will not.