About a year ago, I first got a taste of Augmented when I was watching Mario Klingemann's "Here be Pixels" presentation for the Head Conference. During the presentation, Mr. Doob pointed out that there was a great library for Flash and Augmented reality called FLARToolkit, which was ported over from ARToolkit by Saqoosha.
Since then there have been some amazing examples, but it didn't truly get outside of the playground and the lab until GE's fantastic Windmill example. They aren't the only commercial example, there are plenty more such as 3D baseball players popping out of cards... but the GE example seems to be the one that is referred to the most. Its popularity has helped cause the commercial sector to now crave for this new eye candy for their own sites. The potential is there for some very effective experiences and cool applications. But I can't help but wonder if this is going to get overplayed and become the next 3D Carousel... ;)
Regardless of what happens with Augmented Reality and websites/web cams... Augmented Reality as a whole is not going away. Its interesting, but we need to step outside of the Flash world and look at the bigger picture. I didn't realize how narrow minded I was being on the topic until a friend asked me what Augmented Reality was and I started describing the square marker, the web cam, and 3d objects or fireworks appearing on your screen. He had seen a video so he knew what I was talking about... but unfortunately I did not know what I was talking about.
Check out Wikipedia's definition of Augmented reality: Wikipedia's definition. 3D fireworks shooting from a piece of cardboard shown through your webcam does not exactly sum up Augmented Reality. In fact, they don't even mention Fireworks once... NOT ONCE!
Wikipedia states that AR is the combination of the real world and computer generated data. It doesn't have to use your web cam or even be on your computer for that matter. The page goes on to say that the initial idea of mixing technology with reality has been around since 1849! And even what we are seeing today was predicted over a decade ago as seen in this article from Science Daily.
There are many examples beyond the commercial sector such as Military, Medical, Navigation, Architecture, etc. And AR is definitely not limited to the webcam or the personal computer. In fact, TechCrunch recently had an article about Layar's Augmented Reality Browser for mobile devices. Layars is not the only one in the market, just check out this list from Venture Beat. No webcam? No smartphone? No problem, just put on some of these fancy shades. Why stop there? Why not place them in contacts? (I am sure this has been in some sci fi movie... possibly Minority Report). At that point, AR could be a part of every aspect of your daily life. Kinda scary, but exciting at the same time.
What we need to realize is that AR is a growing technology and a growing field that is not going away anytime soon. We can splash the internet with our 3D boxes and Fireworks, but the real applications and immersive experiences will find their place and will get pushed outside of the computer, outside of handhelds, and into every day life.