The Inquirer is launching a service that seeks to enhance the newspaper through interaction with tablets and smartphones.

Using the cameras embedded in such devices, readers will be able to scan photographs or advertisements in the newspaper to access hidden content, which will then be streamed to the devices.

Readers could, for instance, watch a special video or hear an interview associated with a newspaper story, or they could get updates through the day on a breaking news story. They also could receive special deals by scanning advertisements.

The triggering images are called auras, and the image- and pattern-recognition technology was developed by Aurasma, a division of Hewlett-Packard.

The Inquirer says it will be the first U.S. newspaper to use the technology. Laura Offers, director of marketing for Aurasma, which calls itself the "world's leading augmented-reality platform," said that the technology was launched in July and that newspapers in the Netherlands and Japan use it.

Altogether, Offers said, the Aurasma app has had three million downloads since its launch.

The venture was announced Wednesday at the Newspaper Association of America mediaXchange 2012 conference in Washington.

Jerry Steinbrink, chief brand officer for Philadelphia Media Network, which owns The Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, said the technology could "bridge the gap" between the printed newspaper and digital devices.

"It seemed like a new technology that was worth trying," Steinbrink said. The hidden content could be a website, a video, or a slide show, he said.

If the venture is successful, Steinbrink said, it could be expanded to the Daily News.

The app will be free and available for newer Apple or Android products. The first "augmented-reality edition" of The Inquirer will be available May 6.

Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.