An introduction to Augmented Reality app development

An introduction to Augmented Reality app development

1st June 2016

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

The world of mobile technology moves at lightning pace. If you’re a software development manager, trying to stay on top of the latest trends it is almost a full-time job in itself. Staying in tune with the latest trends is tricky – that’s why we’re exploring the world of augmented reality and what it means for your business.

In its simplest form, augmented reality enables app developers and businesses to overlay digital data on top of real world objects. Augmented reality, although in it’s infancy, is already making huge waves across the mobile technology landscape and is already starting to prove a disruptive force across diverse industry sectors from finance and retail to travel and fashion. Augmented reality is largely viewed as an extension of existing technologies, which is useful in terms of consumer adoption as anyone with a smartphone or device that includes in built video capability can access and utilise the technology.
How does augmented reality work?

Location-based augmented reality apps

Augmented reality apps come in two distinct forms, location-based and marker-based. Location based augmented reality apps utilise the distinct capabilities of mobile devices to monitor the position of each device. This enables augmented reality apps to provide contextual data based upon the specific location of an individual device. In terms of real-world application, this technology enables marketers to provide location sensitive functionality such as help with directions in a particular city, locating a vehicle in a busy car park or understanding constellation patterns in the night sky.

Marker-based augmented reality apps

Marker-based augmented reality apps differ from location-based apps in a number of ways. Firstly, marker-based AR apps operate by enabling the software to pinpoint particular patterns (this could be a QR code or brand symbol) when used in conjunction with a device camera (usually a smartphone) to overlay digital information upon the real-world environment. This means that when the device user points their smartphone at a particular object or setting, they can see a virtual UI on top of the object. Secondly, if the image in question is either animated or 3D, the digital overlay sits on top of the recognised pattern. These emerging technologies offer enormous potential to software development managers and marketers seeking to extend their existing mobile offering.

How to develop augmented reality apps

If you’re thinking of developing an augmented reality app, there are a bunch of things you need to consider. Most augmented reality apps will superimpose 3D imagery or text over real-time images that are being processed by the user’s device. So in order to think about developing an augmented reality app, you need to have access to image processing expertise. Accessing some form of image processing capability will enable you to develop an app capable of tracking markers or natural features in the real-world environment.

If you’re using computer software to generate images, it’s fundamental that the images in question look realistic and credible from the users perspective. It’s also important that imagery is correctly aligned with the real-world environment and getting both of these elements right can be extremely tricky from a development perspective. Failure to develop an authentic UI/UX will result in an augmented reality app that’s very difficult to use and provides little value for the end consumer.

Given the rapid growth of AR/VR adoption, it’s essential to consider that in the future, many augmented reality consumers will be mass-market and expect a seamless UI/UX. Making your augmented reality app simple and intuitive will vastly increase your chances of success in a rapidly growing market.

But developing augmented reality apps involves more than just image analysis and processing techniques. You’ll need to have access to more traditional mobile development capability and utilise developers with a deep understanding of the app development process. Using an agency to extend your mobile capability is one way to manage the commercial and technical risk factors associated with your augmented reality project.

Typically, augmented reality app developers will possess a mixture of skills including 3D modelling, computer vision and imaging expertise and a deep understanding of existing mobile technologies. From an imagery perspective, you’ll need an experienced development team who understand 3D modelling in significant depth, with prior experience of the rendering, shading and texturing process. Generally speaking the preferred programming languages for augmented reality app development are C# and C++ providing an easy augmented reality entry point for developers who already possess these skills.

Developing augmented reality apps is about more than mobile development expertise and 3D imaging. Getting started in augmented reality requires a certain philosophical mindset. If you’re a business or brand in the market to develop the next big augmented reality app to engage users or generate revenue, it’s essential that you’re passionate about innovation and the pursuit of new technologies.

But passion alone is not nearly enough. Much like any mobile app development project, achieving success in augmented reality means starting with the end in mind. Developing apps for augmented reality can reap huge rewards and enable your business to engage new and existing customers whilst generating lucrative new revenue streams. So it’s essential that you consider why you’re developing a VR app. You’ll need to think carefully about your key measures of success and the commercial elements associated with the development of your augmented reality app.

What are the best augmented reality development platforms?

If you’re looking to develop an augmented reality app for your business, there are a bunch of platforms you can consider. These platforms can be used to develop AR apps for smartphones, tablets and a range of wearable devices. Here are some of the best augmented reality products in the market to date: ARPA SDK’s, DroidAR (specifically for Android), Metaio SDK, Vuforia SDK, Wikitude SDK and ARLab SDK. Most of the above augmented reality platforms will enable support for multiple platforms including iOS, Android, Google Glass, Windows and Unity. Some platforms, such as the DroidAR product, are specifically focused on a particular platform, in this case Android. Other products will enable you to develop apps across multiple platforms, whilst the Wikitude SDK specialises in PhoneGap and Xamarin integration too.

Developing an AR app can be tricky, so it’s important to choose the right technologies and products to use at the front end of your project. Using one of the above AR app development products could drastically enhance your time to market and these solutions are currently being used to deploy apps for blue chip businesses and brands across a variety of sectors and industries.

How can I kick-start my augmented reality app development project?

As of today demand for mobile app development capability has never been higher. It’s estimated that only 6% of enterprises have all the mobile developer talent they need and that 50% of enterprises have a backlog of between ten and twenty mobile app projects (Opinion Matters). The reality from a commercial perspective is that big businesses simply can source high quality app development expertise fast enough. Therefore, almost by default, sourcing high quality AR app development experience is in itself an inherently complex task.

One of the the best ways to get your AR app to market in the shortest possible timescale is to outsource your requirements to an experienced agency. Working with a mobile-first agency will help crystalise your thinking around your key measures of success. As demand for augmented reality app development capability grows, businesses across a diverse range of industry verticals will seek to enter the market. One particular area where AR is currently having a seismic impact is within the fashion industry. Within the fashion/retail sector, AR apps are being deployed to enable ‘try before you buy’ purchase opportunities. This enables consumers to ‘try on’ new products such as watches, jewellery and glasses. One way to achieve this is by overlaying an AR display on top of a virtual avatar based on the user’s characteristics, increasing their ability to make an informed purchase decision. This is just one example of the many ways in which AR is being deployed as a marketing tactic, enabling fashion retailers to rapidly accelerate prospective consumers through the buying cycle.

What is the future of augmented reality app development?

Augmented reality has actually been around for a long time. One of the first real-world deployments of augmented reality technology was within the Military, whereby pilots would be equipped with goggles that display a discreet layer of radar data in order to optimise missile attacks. The potential of AR is vast, particularly within the education sector. Augmented reality apps offer the potential to support location based learning practices by layering data over real-world objects. There are already examples of AR apps that enable users to translate text information into different languages. This type of technology is likely to have a massive influence in terms of enabling consumers to learn new languages faster.

There are many real-world examples of how AR is currently being deployed in a commercial setting, from museums and theme parks, to astronomy and fashion. In terms of the future of AR app development, the biggest game changer is likely to occur when users no longer require a screen. At present the vast majority of AR apps require some form of camera to overlay images on top of the real-world. Whilst using a smartphone is a convenient way of enabling AR, it also acts as a significant barrier to adoption. Microsoft inventor Alex Kipman spoke of HoloLens and other augmented-reality devices as a step in an evolution to a time when pecking at smartphone screens or computer keyboards are tales from generations past. “I am talking about freeing ourselves from the two-dimensional confines of traditional computing,” said Kipman, the creator behind Kinect motion-tracking accessories for Xbox video game consoles.

If you’re a business or brand seeking to develop an augmented reality app, contact Waracle today to kick-start your project.

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