If you’ve found yourself on social media in the past year, chances are you’ve come across numerous examples and demos of augmented reality (or AR)—think people playing Minecraft in their kitchen or virtual skeletons in your bedroom.
These demonstrations are fun to watch. It is because they push the limits of how we perceive physical spaces and objects. And allow us to imagine what the future of AR technology will hold. However, there are a few industries in particular where AR is making waves as a viable business technology and not just a gimmick.
Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR)
Both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies have been around for quite some time. In the last few years, there have been some successful cases, like the legendary success of Pokemon GO in 2016.
For a brief time, people were playing it everywhere. Since June, players have made 113 million friend connections and have sent each other 2.2 billion gifts. Today, there are 5 million people who play the game daily.
However, AR is still making its entry into the customer sphere. 2019 will be the moment when augmented reality delivers on its promise, experts say, after years of companies such as Facebook investing billions in the technology.
In 2019 AR will be widely used commercially, for instance in hi-tech shop displays and for employee training.
The technologies will also edge towards more widespread consumer use, thanks to a new Oculus headset, Oculus Quest, which is predicted to sell three times more than its predecessor, Oculus Rift, and offer a mainstream device for users to operate these incoming technologies.
Worldwide spending on AR and VR is set to hit $20.4 billion in 2019, a rise of 68.8 % from 2018, according to research by International Data Corporation (IDC).
To put things into perspective, in 2014, there were only 200,000 active virtual reality users in the world. By the end of 2018, were 171 million active users. And in 2020, it’s predicted that VR/AR will be a more than $162 billion industry.
Technology companies are tweaking their main products and incorporating AR elements as a way to boost their sales.
Every company we talk to is very curious to learn about the new possibilities. Until they become mainstream, any company that jumps in to utilize these technologies will have a clear advantage over late adopters.
The latest brand looking to AR is Apple. The company announced in August that it bought Akonia Holographics, which makes lenses for AR devices. According to Reuters, it’s “a signal Apple has ambitions to make a wearable device that would superimpose digital information on the real world.”
In this article, we discuss what augmented reality is, the current trends and challenges, Android and Apple AR app markets and the future of AR.
What is Augmented Reality?
AR or augmented reality is an interactive technology that blends digital elements with the real-life environment of users in real-time. These digital elements can be anything from images, sounds, visual overlays to interactive data or other sensory projections.
Augmented reality has a number of use cases across a plethora of different industries. For example, CoSpaces Edu is an intuitive educational technology designed for teachers and schools who want to pair traditional teaching methods with augmented reality to improve the learning experiences of students of all ages.
Marker-Based Augmented Reality
There are two main kinds of augmented reality: marker-based and marker-less. In a marker-based augmented reality application, the images to be recognized are provided beforehand, which significantly simplifies the process of image recognition.
A great example of a marker-based augmented reality application is Google Googles, which allows users to point their mobile devices at a painting, a famous landmark, a barcode or QR code, a product, or a popular image to retrieve more information about it.
Another example of a marker-based augmented reality app is Scanbuy, a leading SmartLabel QR Code service provider.
Marker-less Augmented Reality
Unlike marker-based augmented reality applications, marker-less augmented reality applications are capable of recognizing things that were not provided beforehand.
As you can probably imagine, it’s much more challenging to create a marker-less augmented reality application since the application must be able to identify patterns, colors, and many other features that may exist in camera frames.
IKEA Place is one of the most popular marker-less augmented reality apps on the market today, allowing its users to place IKEA products in real environments to see how they would fit.
The app is able to automatically detect the floor, walls, and ceiling and place true-to-scale models of everything from sofas and armchairs to footstools and coffee tables with a press of a button.
IKEA Place was created using ARCore, and, in the next section of this article, we describe it in greater detail along with several other popular software development kits (SDK)that allow for augmented reality applications to be built for Android devices.
Challenges in AR Mobile App Development
There are many challenges when it comes to app development and here is a list of some common challenges.
A mobile app developer has to consider the various components of a smartphone before coming up with a functional AR application. For example, the accelerometer and compass in most devices are easily susceptible to electronic interference.
Therefore, before the developer incorporates AR into that device, he or she has to find a way that will guarantee smooth readings.
AR mobile apps sometimes lag due to the phone’s features. For example, a smartphone may have an amazing camera capable of taking some of the best photos and video, but when it comes AR compatibility, the camera fails to perform.
Sometimes the screen is not interactive enough or the phone lacks enough RAM to run an AR-based mobile application.
Although it is great that there are AR mobile applications, they might not be the best option right now because they are limited in terms of content.
This is one of the biggest challenges facing mobile app development right now. Developers are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing needs of the user and create engaging content.
Not everybody you meet will be able to tell you what AR is all about. This is because few people know how AR actually works. It’s this lack of public awareness that makes the implementation of AR technologies quite difficult.
You can’t introduce a product that less than 10% of the population know how to use. You won’t make any big sales.
Most AR mobile applications require your GPS to be on so that they can be functional. Such permissions bring challenges associated with privacy needs. Is it justifiable for the app to demand so much from your phone?
With the new regulations on European privacy laws, firms have to state how they intend to use your information. Another issue has to do with the ownership of the virtual world. It is not clear who owns a virtual world designed by the user.
There are interchangeability issues when it comes to working with AR mobile applications. A mobile app developer has to create a new kit for his or her AR application.
These kits have to be compatible with the phone model so that they can function without any problem.
Another problem is something to do with the AR browsers. An AR App needs an AR browser so that it can function well.
The problem is that there are many under-developed browsers. For example, some of them easily linked to social media; thus, limiting their application.
Choosing the Right Augmented Reality SDK
There are several SDKs from which developers can choose. An SDK is a set of software development tools that allows the creation of applications for platforms, like Android or iOS.
A good SDK can significantly simplify the app development process, and this is especially true when it comes to augmented reality.
One of the major players for the development of augmented reality apps is Vuforia. Using this toolkit will make sure your app runs efficiently on all vital platforms like iOS, Unity Editor, UWP as well as Android.
If you have this toolkit installed in your system, it will make Vuforia Object Scanner available so that customers get a chance to take 2D as well as a 3D view of any product they consider buying from you. It offers text recognition facility that has more than 100,000 words along with the custom vocabulary choice option.
Including videos to specify the product parts online to enable your customers to view the same is very simple in the app with Vuforia.
Though the toolkit SDK is free of cost, you may have to face certain restrictions in functionality and watermarks of the version. To use it without restriction, you as an app developer would need to subscribe to obtain a commercial license.
The next on the list of augmented reality toolkits is Wikitude. It is suitable for multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, and also smart glasses. It has SLAM technology included in it. As a result, having a 3D view of the products available in the app is possible.
In addition, it also assures efficient image recognition and tracking feature. In case, you are targeting the customers based on their geographical boundaries, this toolkit will make sure you achieve this goal.
The new version of the toolkit i.e. Wikitude SDK 7 comes with advanced camera features and extended tracking facility.
As an app developer, you can go for this option on a free trial basis and when you find it suitable, you can subscribe to enjoy it without any watermark restrictions.
With the introduction of ARKit by Apple, the software industry saw a new technology innovation. The augmented reality developer made sure the product scalability of a brand is wider and the reach is beyond limitations.
Deploying the ARToolKit makes you have a TrueDepth camera that identifies the structure, position, and expression of the face of the person using the app. As a result, the toolkit offers high accuracy and assured security.
The innovative Visual Inertial Odometry or VIA enables you to fuse camera sensor data using Core Motion data, and thereby, track movements without having to include any extra calibration.
Following the introduction of ARKit, Google came up with a competitive toolkit – ARCore. Being an app developer, you always look for tools that enable AR design and deployment. The new mobile phones come with well-equipped with tools that sense the external surroundings.
With ARCore, motion tracking has been made possible. The toolkit supports almost every platform, including Android 7.0 and onwards as well as iOS 11 and higher.
You can position texts and objects with the desirable physical surroundings with the help of the above motion tracking features that it offers. It excels in real-time tracking of the position of users. In a nutshell, this augmented reality toolkit has the ability to effectively bring together the real and virtual world.
With two SDKs, Maxst has to offer 2D technology for image tracking and 3D system for environment recognition. The toolkit has Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping facility instilled in it. This, in turn, offers excellent tracking service.
While tracking the surrounding, the map extends beyond the first view automatically as the camera moves. The best part is that it has the option to save the maps for future use.
Maxst offers QR and barcode scanning along with multi-target tracking service. It is easy to track the target to the extent to which the camera could see. Using Maxst in your app enables you to track up to three images. You can position and track objects with respect to the plane.
The toolkit also provides unity plugin integration for app developers.
Vuforia versus Kudan is the most talked about competition in the augmented reality niche. The app developers are normally confused regarding what to use. As both the toolkits offer almost similar features and support all possible platforms, it is difficult to make a valid choice.
Using Kudan enables both marker-based and marker-less tracking. Marker-based AR apps emphasize on using the software installed in various devices to detect patterns to obtain an image from the device camera.
You can make sure your app has a real-time texture morphing feature along with high-quality 3D graphics support if you use Kudan.
However, you are likely to face apps crashes while using this toolkit, which makes it a little tough for app developers to go for it. Hence, they prefer Vuforia.
It may not be as popular as other AR toolkits but DeepAR has emerged as one of the best players. It is a product from the makers who participated in the development of the Hailo app, Candy Crash, NASA and the Russian Space Agency.
You get four effect types – rigid objects, morph masks, post-processing effects, and deformable masks.
The developers using this can have high-quality face lenses in their app along with multiple masks and effects features in the mobile devices and desktop interfaces.
It will enable the apps to have facial detection facilities in real time depending on the data models and machine learning techniques, which are, of course, patented. This is the best for even the Android phones that have lower specifications.
The toolkit comes from Hong Kong and makes real-time face tracking much easier. It also helps app developers in creating applications based on AR techniques.
These apps, however, work best for web browsers, mobile phones, and desktop apps. It offers augmented vision, magic face feature, augmented face recognition in videos, etc.
To make the app experience for your business and people great and memorable, knowing about the above AR toolkits will definitely help you yield productive results.
Every kit has one or the other unique feature, which you need to be aware of, prior to making your choice while creating an app.
How Your Organization Could Use AR
Make sure that your organization can turn this knowledge into meaningful business actions. Knowledge without working experience will not take you far. First, set clear business goals.
For example, do you want to sell more product, engage new clientele or increase your brand visibility? Take these goals and realize how you could integrate AR experiences into your traditional and digital marketing efforts.
For example, if banking is your business and your goal is to get teenagers to work on their saving behavior, you could create a game where players find virtual coins and toss them into their virtual account in your bank.
You can provide them with opportunities to spend their coins for in-game items. But you could give better incentives if they keep most of their money in the bank for longer than three months. There can be countless scenarios like this, depending on your industry.
Let Your Team Fail
Without failure, there is no real learning. Now is precisely the right time to fail and learn about VR/AR. In a few years, you will not have as much opportunity to fail.
Remember that someone is learning and experimenting on the edges of technology and marketing while you are trying to defend the status quo. Be brave enough to innovate.
We cannot escape from AR, and the future is already here. Every business would be wise to at least consider realizing how their company could strategically benefit from implementing these technologies.