There was once a time when “hologram” meant a very specific image technique associated with – you know – lasers. And I think holography could reclaim its cool, as its unique aesthetic inspires retro admiration. For some reason, however, at the moment the general public is so confused by holography that they’re applying the name to everything. (Worst offender: CNN. Now, if CNN developed the technology to do this with a projector hidden inside a droid, I might be impressed…)

That said, I actually quite like the clever tricks employed for MachWerx’s application, Holograms. The name, at least, is self-consciously false, and true to my predictions of the return of hologram aesthetics, even includes a faux hologram filter.

More on the app:

I found this application on Mac blog TUAW, which apparently got confused trying to figure out how to use it. I had a different take. Sure, the app’s effect only kinda sorta works. Sure, more documentation would have been nice. But you have to give credit to the developer for economy, using some simple image processing techniques to accomplish a 3D effect in 2D and motion with still images and an accelerometer.

The trick is self-explanatory from the video: as you paint with your finger, you create a displacement map. That in turn provides Z-displacement for portions of the image, which when transformed in sync with the accelerometer distorts the image. You can add various image filters (presumably built with Core Image) and even do anaglyphic stereograms. (Read: put on red/blue 3D glasses.)

If you’re not impressed, consider that the two technologies are each likely to improve: accelerometers and the speed at which they’re read are likely to advance in mobile devices in general, and new image-analysis techniques could soon make the process of slicing apart the image much easier. This is also a nice demo of how some of the easily-accessible image processing features on the iPhone developer platform can open up creative applications that would be difficult to accomplish on other platforms. Cough. Sun. Google. Microsoft. Please. Pay. Attention.

But I think there’s even another lesson to be learned from this app (aside from not expecting too much of your users by failing to include online help). There’s quite a lot of interaction possible with still images. The VJ and visualist community have tended to be focused primarily on video as a medium, but traditional video isn’t the only way to achieve motion. I’d love to see more clever image manipulation in visual sets.

Now if only Apple would give us video out…

Image magic could be a big part of our future. And someday I have a feeling the experiments that seem primitive now will inspire nostalgia later. After all, once we get all this technology working transparently, it may prove to be, paradoxically, less fun.

I’ll close with a video tutorial from the developer. If you’ve got an iPhone or iPod touch, the app is two bucks. Let us know what you think.