Is mobile AR overhyped? Yes.

First of all, the technology is not new at all. It is simply moving from PC and industrial environments to a marketing and mobile context.

Let’s face the reality: for now it is primarily used by brands willing to launch innovative mobile services and in search of a “wow” effect.

Few consumers are currently holding up their smartphone to interact with their environment as a totally natural gesture. Whether you look at the installed base of Junaio or Layar’s mobile users, this is a niche market.

From a pure technology standpoint, AR requires object recognition and computerization on the mobile device itself, as well as 3D rendering to superimpose images on the real world. This is a technology that only a few companies such as Metaio and Total Immersion really master.

The information displayed must be ultra-accurate and delivered in a perfectly seamless way. This is still far from being the norm for many of the so-called mobile AR applications.

To put it succinctly, mobile AR is not yet delivering its promise. There are certainly more significant short-term opportunities to tap into with Web-based and kiosk-based AR solutions, in particular related to eCommerce.

However, Forrester believes consumer product strategists should not dismiss the technology. On the contrary, it is likely to trigger disruption in the years to come and to open up new opportunities.

Is this a key technology moving forward? Yes.

Think of mobile AR as: “A way to click on the real world with your phone the way computer users navigate their desktop with a mouse. Just point in the direction you want to search, or at a place you want more info about,” which is how GeoVector summed it up in promoting its World Surfer application.

However, Forrester believes this is way more than a gimmick. Drivers for growth are in place (device computing technologies not just on smartphones but increasingly on tablets, mass-market connectivity, community of developers), and this technology is likely to merge with many others such as visual search (Google’s Goggles, Nokia’s Point and Find), barcodes, and NFC.

In the years to come, it will be a disruptive technology changing the way consumers interact with their environments. It will bridge the real and digital worlds, enabling new ways to engage with customers via advanced digital interactivity. Because mobile AR makes the most of unique mobile attributes, it will help in transforming mobile phones as the new remote control of our personal daily lives.

In 2011, expect lots of innovation and interest from handset manufacturers (mobile AR as the "new UI"), online and social media players, and location-based networks such as foursquare, but set realistic expectations!

If you want to know more about this topic, see Forrester's brand-new report available here.