Although there are a growing number of excellent examples and even reports of positive return on investment on mobile AR, I shudder at the thought that the first applications the term "Augmented Reality" will bring to the minds of most people will be a game played with the wrapping on a candy bar. OK. I get it. The power of engagement.
AR experiences that fail to bring value to the user (beyond a quick thrill) in return for their attention are unhealthy for our image. People fail, or are not paid enough, to think sufficiently about the impact this technology will have and how to use it.
In my opinion, one profound impact of AR will be to turn the user's immediate environment into the interface for search and interactivity with digital information. Time for a new term: turning the physical world into the interface for digital is an extension of Skeuomorphism.
According to the Wikipedia definition, a skeuomorph is a physical ornament or design on an object copied from a form of the object when made from another material or by other techniques. It's a principle that Apple, while under the direction of Steve Jobs, was known for. The debate over the merits of Apple's extensive use of skeuomorphism became the subject of substantial media attention in October 2012, a year after Jobs' death, largely as the result of the reported firing of Scott Forstall, described as "the most vocal and high-ranking proponent of the visual design style favored by Mr. Jobs".
There are already examples of AR permitting the physical world to become the interface for the digital one. One I'm hoping will be repeated in many public spaces is the interactive lobby. If you are not already aware of this Interactive Spaces project, developed earlier this year for an Experience Center on the Mountain View Google campus, I highly recommend getting acquainted with the goals and people behind it on this blog post.
In this example, the cameras in the ceiling detect the user's presence and moving around in the space causes objects to move, sounds to be produced and more.
Expect many more examples in 2013.