Imagine a world where the city's buildings talk to you, the pictures in a newspaper play videos and manga comics jump off the page to become interactive 3D animations. Welcome to augmented reality, an enhanced version of your world that can be accessed through a smartphone or computer. It sounds like the science fiction world of Tom Cruise in the movie Minority Report but it may just be around the corner thanks to our love affair with smartphones. These hand-held devices boast two key ingredients that make augmented reality possible: high-quality video cameras and enough computing power to rival a desktop machine. As smartphones continue to saturate the mobile market, augmented reality will sound less like fiction and more like reality. 'Augmented reality is sophisticated video technology where you always need a camera, so it can be a phone camera or a webcam connected to your computer,' said Eberhard Schoneberg, the head of Hong Kong-based Artificial Life, which is developing augmented reality technology for a range of applications. 'It's like reality plus something.' Essentially, it gives the user more information about something that exists in real life. 'On top of information, we put in animations, graphics and make it interactive.' The way it works is simple enough. You choose a marker, which may be a logo or picture, with the camera on your phone or computer and it will trigger information, usually in the form of a 3D animation. The animation pops up on the screen and the user can move the animation and view it from any angle. Augmented reality uses the same technology in programs that identify and track army tanks and, though it is still early days, its applications vary from advertising to education and health care. Companies developing augmented reality technology include Ogmento, Metaio, Layar, Tonchidot, and Total Immersion, but Artificial Life is the only one based in Hong Kong. The company relocated here from the US in 2001 with two staff and now employs more than 100 local people. Schoneberg said Hong Kong was an ideal location to establish an IT company. 'All we have is intellectual property, so the big advantage is the functioning intellectual property laws here,' he said. The areas where augmented reality will pop up are endless, he said. It may also breathe life into old technology. 'The sale of physical newspapers is declining,' Schoneberg said. 'Even The New York Times has announced it's going to stop printing so you have to get these people online, lure them online with these interactive things.' The company has just signed a deal with Bild, Germany's biggest tabloid and reportedly Europe's biggest-selling newspaper. 'Normally, the people who read this newspaper are blue-collar workers,' Schoneberg said. 'On the other side, they have a very successful newspaper online but they are completely different audiences.' Augmented reality can turn a page three girl into a moving 3D animation that can be manipulated in real time. Schoneberg said this would potentially bring traditional print readers to the online version. 'You cannot get this online, you cannot get it in the physical newspaper, you can only get it through [augmented reality].' The company is also working with three of the biggest manga publishing houses in Japan to turn the massively popular comics into interactive 3D animations. On a more serious note, the technology can be applied to the health sector - with information stored on health care cards - and for immigration purposes, with passports having a unique marker that brings up a 3D animation of the person. 'You will see it in almost everything in the future without even noticing it,' he said.