Total Immersion, for example, created baseball cards for Topps this year that became a three-dimensional avatar of the featured player when held in front of a webcam. It
also designed product tie-ins for the film "Avatar" for McDonald's and Mattel with technology that makes animated 3-D landscapes and characters come to life when scanned by a webcam.
The next wave of programs probably will be for smartphones, Wong writes, but it won't be a trip in the ethereal park for developers. "We've learned that it's really hard to do this well," says Yelp product manager Eric Singley, whose company developed an augmented-reality application for the iPhone this year called Monocle. When a user holds a phone's camera to view a city street, information about nearby businesses pops up on the screen. A lot of polish is required, he says, to avoid creating a "confusing, messy and jarring" reality.