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It was July of 2016. Mobile gamers, who were otherwise confined to their comfortable sofas, were roaming the streets to catch that rare Pokémon with the new augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon GO. The game went on to set five Guinness World Records and is one of the best mobile games to use AR elegantly.
Since then, augmented reality app development has gained tremendous momentum. From education to healthcare and manufacturing, AR is extensively used to enhance perception and visualisation of objects.
Even though apps like Snapchat extensively use augmented reality in its filters, it is safe to say that many often confuse it with virtual reality (VR), and nearly half of Americans use AR without realising what it is. So, let’s take a look at what augmented reality really is.
What Is Augmented Reality (AR)?
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that superimposes digital content such as audio, video or text onto physical objects surrounding a user. It was brought into the mainstream with the help of mobile apps and enriches the visual experience with real-life interactive AR content.
AR content can be accessed using smartphones or screens, and at times, doesn’t require either (discussed later). On the other hand, virtual reality generally requires a headgear to display its immersive 3D experience to users by creating a virtual environment. However, Microsoft’s HoloLens uses a combination of the best features from both.
The application of augmented reality is endless. Top brands develop app with augmented reality to better showcase and market their products and enhance the user experience.
For example, an AR app like Amikasa lets you place 3D models of the furniture you wish to buy on any room and see if it fits. Once you place a particular furniture item at a specific location, it will remain there until you manually remove them.
How Does AR Work?
For AR apps to work, it requires the following components:
- An optical scanner, in this case, the mobile camera, to identify physical objects.
- A software that can analyse images, and recognise the AR content associated with each image.
- The rendering of digital AR content onto the physical objects, performed with the help of a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU).
The AR app uses a device’s camera to analyse and recognise the world around it. Depending upon the nature of the app (discussed later), the AR content will be triggered by markers or locations.
Once the camera identifies a physical object that has been pre-assigned to an AR content, the app superimposes the digital content onto the object through a process called rendering. This process consumes a significant amount of system resources and displays the content in a realistic manner.
Even though the process may seem simple, there’s a lot of processing that goes behind it. From image recognition to perfectly displaying AR contents, several system resources starting from an accelerometer to GPS are used.
Since augmented reality takes place in front of a user with the help of a device’s camera, its resolution and frame rates profoundly decide the quality of experience. The higher the frame rate, the higher the CPU and GPU usage, and the better the user experience.
Types of Augmented Reality Apps
1. Marker-Based Augmented Reality
Marker-based AR apps use image recognition to reveal their content. The device’s camera scans for black and white markers placed around a user as triggers to display contents. Once the device identifies the marker, the app overlays the real-life object with an augmented component.
During augmented reality development of marker-based apps, data regarding the images or descriptors are preloaded in the app to make the identification process easier. The Overly app is an excellent example of apps using marker-based AR technology.
2. Marker-less Augmented Reality
Marker-less AR apps, also known as location-based AR apps, don’t require any markers to function. Instead, they rely on a device’s geo-referenced data such as GPS, or its accelerometer to display AR content.
A famous example of location-based AR apps is the Pokémon GO game. Google Maps also uses AR to guide users, which, in the near future, can be used as a virtual tour guide.
3. Projection-Based Augmented Reality
Projection-based AR, also known as Spatial Augmented Reality (SAR), projects artificial light onto a physical object or surface, just like a projector. Currently, projection AR isn’t used in mobile apps as its possibilities are more complementary to the engineering and manufacturing sectors.
Unlike other forms of AR, projection-based AR doesn’t require a smartphone or headgears to see and interact with. This technology uses sensors to enable users to interact with the content. It is particularly useful for exhibitions or demonstrations to showcase a product’s functionality.
4. Superimposition-Based Augmented Reality
Superimposition-based AR is similar to projection-based augmented reality and uses object recognition to display its AR content. This type of AR is particularly useful for medical and architectural sectors as they can show the results of structural changes made to an object.
An example of superimposition-based AR is the IKEA app. The app makes it easier for customers to make informed purchase decisions by allowing them to try different furniture and see if they sync with the environment.
Depending on the level of interaction offered, AR apps can be grouped into autonomic apps and interactive apps.
- Autonomic apps offer additional information about a physical object to users but are not designed for interaction.
- Interactive apps allow interaction between users and objects. A user can input data (gestures, swiping or panning), and it will be reflected on the virtual object.
Which Industries Use Augmented Reality?
1. Gaming and Entertainment
Gaming and entertainment are, in fact, the biggest opportunists of AR technology as the room for imagination in these industries are larger than in any other. Out of the many, Pokémon GO, Ghostbusters World, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and Knightfall AR are some of the best AR games.
Even though the augmented reality app development cost for games will be slightly higher than a 2D one, its market is expected to surpass $284.9 billion by 2023. App advertisers use the potentialities of AR to gamify their campaigns as well.
AR apps can be an excellent accessory for enhanced learning as it can visualise each concept and bring more fun to education. Adding to that, 70% of consumers feel AR can help them learn new skills better.
The Froggipedia app used to learn the anatomy of frogs. Image Credit: apple.com
Think of a zoology class that uses AR to bring animals to classrooms. They can move and make noises, just like in their habitat. Students are more likely to grasp the concept better as these realistic multimedia will be imprinted onto their minds.
The Civilisation AR app by BBC used to learn art and culture across the world. Image Credit: play.google.com
With AR, the healthcare industry can significantly improve the quality of treatment it delivers. For example, the augmented reality app Touch Surgery helps medical students learn surgery techniques through a virtual simulation.
A combination of VR and AR can help doctors perform diagnostic tests remotely and can assist them during surgeries. In the case of patients, AR apps can be used to educate them with the vital steps required to perform to overcome an ailment.
4. Retail and E-Commerce
If you own an e-commerce business, then the cost of augmented reality app development will be one of the best investments you can make. AR apps give users the freedom to shop from anywhere in the world, by virtually trying out your goods. Here are a few augmented reality retail statistics for you to consider.
5. Real Estate and Architecture
Just like retail, real estate can benefit hugely from AR. With augmented reality apps, realtors can show properties to customers without visiting the actual place. Owners can now easily visualise how certain properties will look like if they are renovated or decorated.
Similarly, architects can visualise, present and interact with 3D models of structures using apps such as ARki.
6. Marketing and Advertising
For marketers and advertisers, augmented reality is an opportunity to attract an audience and experiment with their creativity. Unlike video or photo ads, AR marketing campaigns offer endless possibilities, starting with gamification of ads to using AR lenses in Snapchat to make products go viral.
Furthermore, AR can be used in the military to train soldiers and in manufacturing to increase productivity.
How to Transform User Experience With AR Apps
Humans are visual lovers, and we get to know things better if we can interact with them. Unlike other types of 2D apps, AR surrounds it with a “wow” factor that can tempt users to try something out of curiosity.
With augmented reality, designers can deliver a heightened degree of user experience, which would otherwise be impossible with just a 2D screen. Here are some of the ways you can transform a user’s journey and experience using your app with AR.
1. Enrich Shopping Experience
One of the most vital advantages of augmented reality is the comfort it can bring to online shoppers. With the help of e-commerce AR apps, users can try out wares without the hassle of stepping into a store.
Specifically, during times when going to a store is risky, AR apps can help in making informed purchase decisions. Adding to that, 71% of shoppers will shop more often if they use AR apps.
An excellent example of this is the Nike app. The app uses AR to measure feet sizes and takes the guesswork out of buying shoes online.
2. Gamification to Entice Users
Gamification refers to the inclusion of game elements into marketing a product or service. With the gamification market expected to rise to 30.7 billion by 2025, augmented reality in apps can complement this sector hugely.
A great example of this is the branded Snapchat lenses and filters. By advertising a brand through gamification, the chances are high for it to go viral – depending on the level of creative investment you make.
Apart from the quality of content they offer, one of the biggest reasons for Netflix’s success and wide desirability is the personalisation it offers. To pull off this feat, Netflix extensively uses artificial intelligence and machine learning, to the extent that it knows your preferences well, more than anyone else.
Similarly, augmented reality app development can utilise the capabilities of AI to offer highly-personalised AR content to its users. Also, an AR app can help users quickly customise products and make informed decisions.
An excellent example of this is the Sephora app. Using AR, the app allows users to try out different shades of makeup, and see how it matches the dress they are planning to wear. Furthermore, the app suggests certain shades which match the user.
The try-on feature benefits both the user and the retailer. As it allows the user to see how each shade will look on them, they can make confident purchase decisions, which will ultimately reduce the number of users returning a product.
4. Boost Engagement and Retention Rates
Starting from filters in social networking apps to AR learning in educational apps, AR can be incorporated into any genre of apps. Users need several reasons to open your app and AR can be one of them.
Although push notifications work to a great extent, if the app can present something innovative, users will be tempted to use it. Adding to that, by 2021, there will be an estimated 1.96 billion mobile AR users in the world.
5. Deliver Real-Time Feedback
A striking benefit of AR apps is that they allow users to interact with information, rather than just consume it. As augmented reality offers instantaneous feedback to users, they are more likely to be immersed in the experience.
For example, the augmented reality app Sketch AR helps users to learn drawing, without any external guidance. The app is an excellent example of how real-time feedback can enrich the user experience to grasp things better. While other types of apps rely on a set of instructions to educate users, an AR app goes a step further and straight into the practicalities.
Similar to personalisation, the AR content of your app can change according to the location of the users. The best example of this is the Pokémon GO app. The app uses the location of a user to customise the content it displays.
Similarly, marketers can use AR to target users as well. For example, if a retailer offers an AR app to enhance their physical store experience, marketers can utilise the indoor mapping of the store and place pop-up AR ads, targeted to users’ interests.
7. Reduced Cognitive Load
Another benefit of augmented reality app development is that it lowers the cognitive burden apps place on its users. For example, using the HoloLens from Microsoft, users don’t have to adjust the dimensions of their designs manually. Instead, they can use their fingers to tweak the sizes.
In terms of the user experience, cognitive load refers to the amount of mental resources a user needs to input to use an app or a system. App developed with augmented reality will significantly reduce the cognitive load on users as it is almost like interacting with real-world objects.
One of the most notable examples of how AR can help users is the translation offered by Google Lens. Users can point their smartphone to texts they want to translate, and the app will superimpose the translated text onto the image.
Lesser cognitive load means users don’t have to know much about an app to use it. For developers, this is an excellent opportunity to optimise their onboarding campaigns and improve their app’s engagement rates as the user interface is simplified.
8. Reduced Interaction Cost
Interaction cost refers to the time and effort spent by users to perform a task. For instance, if a user wants to search for images of the SUV “Lincoln MKX”, they have to open their browser, type in the search terms and press enter. While the very manoeuvre will take only a few seconds, for complex tasks, the time consumed will be higher.
With augmented reality apps, users only need to invest the least amount of time and effort as they can directly interact with components, just like real-life objects.
9. Contextual Input
Just like how the Google Lens translates sign boards with image recognition, and the Snapchat filters adjust based on facial recognition, AR apps interpret contextual inputs from the real world and automatically convert them into actionable digital information. This makes it easier for users to directly show data to apps, instead of explaining it to them.
10. Quality of Content Matters
Whether you plan to include AR in the app or not, the quality of content matter. If you don’t invest the right amount of resources and effort into augmented reality app development, the results will be counterproductive.
For example, if the AR content you include has rendering issues even in high-end devices, your app’s performance, as a whole, will be perceived as mediocre by users. A stuttering app will be uninstalled by users, even before you know it.
Along with the technological marvelousness augmented reality is, it is trendy and capable of making your apps irresistible to users. Especially in the retail sector, AR apps give users the freedom to try out products without visiting a store, in the comfort of their home.
Although most AR apps are currently confined to the four corners of a screen, we are not far from a time when we can break free from screens and interact with AR content, as if they are part of our surroundings.
With its immense desirability, augmented reality app development will soon be cost-effective and widely adopted. Just like touch screens, augmented reality may be the futuristic way of interaction. The only question is, are you planning to incorporate AR into your mobile app?