Augmented reality still has the aura to it of a far-future technology, something eternally five, ten, even twenty years away. But the truth is that we have the tech right now. I'm sure you've all seen GE's fun augmented reality demonstration. Or maybe Hidden Park. Or how about Kweekies? That's just a trickle compared to the flood we'll be seeing by this time next year.
AR hasn't taken the center stage yet, to be sure; but since it's inevitably coming, this means we're in for this decade's biggest and most significant format war. Forget HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray; who cares about dead media when digital distribution is the future anyway? No, the next big format war is one of platform, and has more in common with Xbox vs. PlayStation, or Mac vs. Windows.
A cabal of high-profile AR developers and researchers have come together to fire the first big shot across the bow in this looming battle. They've written an open letter to Apple asking the company to open up the iPhone SDK to provide developers with a public API to manipulate live video in real time. This is a crucial tool that would make the iPhone a powerhouse for mobile augmented reality applications. If you can't access live video, the device just can't access reality in order to augment it, so to speak.
I don't know if Apple will do it; they're a company that take their walled gardens very seriously. But hey, Apple, I think it would be a foolish business move not to. Developers are on your doorstep begging for the chance to make your device the go-to platform for mobile computing -- and you can give it to them now, not five years from now. How can you possibly turn that down?