The Waracle Guide to Augmented Reality App Development

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

In its simplest form, augmented reality enables app developers and businesses to overlay digital data on top of real-world objects. Although past its infancy stage (along with its close cousin, virtual reality) AR is already making huge waves across the mobile app technology landscape. A disruptive force across industry sectors from finance and retail, to travel and fashion, it’s here to stay. Augmented reality is largely viewed as an extension of existing technologies, useful in terms of consumer adoption because anyone with a smartphone camera. So, how does augmented reality work?

Location-based AR 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 an AR app to provide contextual data based upon the specific location of an individual device. In terms of real-world application, AR enables location-sensitive functionality. Think help with direction, locating a vehicle in a busy car park, or understanding constellation patterns in the night sky.

Marker-based AR apps

Marker-based AR apps differ from location-based apps in a number of ways. They operate by enabling the software to pinpoint particular patterns via the device camera (eg a QR code or brand symbol), then overlaying 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 app offering..

How to develop augmented reality applications

If you’re thinking of developing an augmented reality app, there are a bunch of things you need to consider. Most AR 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 AR app, you need to have access to image processing expertise. This will allow 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. It’s also important that imagery is correctly aligned with the real-world environment. Getting both of these elements right can be extremely tricky from a development perspective. Yet failure to develop an authentic UI/UX will result in an app that’s very difficult to use and provides little value to the end consumer.

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

But developing AR apps involves more than just image analysis and processing techniques. Your team will need access to more traditional mobile app development capabilities, and utilise developers with a deep understanding of the mobile app development process.

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

But developing augmented reality apps is about much more than mobile development expertise and 3D imaging. Getting started requires a certain philosophical mindset. If you’re a business looking to develop the next big app, it’s essential that you’re passionate about innovation and the pursuit of new technologies. Passion alone, however, isn’t enough! Much like any mobile app development project, achieving success with AR means starting with the end in mind. Developing these apps can reap huge rewards, so it’s essential that you consider your goals, as well as how you’ll measure success.

The best AR development platforms

If you’re looking to develop an AR app for your business, there are a bunch of platforms you can consider. Some of the best AR platforms worth a look are ARPA SDK’s, DroidAR (specifically for Android), Metaio SDK, Vuforia SDK, Wikitude SDK and ARLab SDK. Most of these allow 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 mobile apps across multiple platforms, whilst Wikitude SDK specialises in PhoneGap and Xamarin integration.

Developing an AR app can be tricky, so it’s important to choose the right technologies and products to drive your project. Using one of the above platforms could drastically enhance your time to market so they’re worth exploring.

How can I kick-start my AR app development project?

As of today, the demand for mobile app development capability has never been higher. It’s estimated that only 6% of enterprises have the developer talent they need. What’s more, 50% have a backlog of between ten and twenty mobile app projects at any one time (Opinion Matters). The reality from a commercial perspective is that big businesses simply can’t source high-quality app development expertise fast enough. Almost by default, sourcing high-quality AR app development experience is in itself an inherently complex task.

As demand for augmented reality app development capability grows, businesses across a diverse range of industry verticals will seek to enter the market. One of the best ways to get your AR app to market in the shortest possible timescale is to outsource your requirements to an experienced agency that will help crystalise your thinking around your key measures of success. 

What is the future of augmented reality mobile app development?

The potential of AR is vast, with many real-world examples being deployed in a commercial setting – from health to manufacturing and retail to travel.  In terms of the future of AR app development, the biggest game-changer is likely to occur when users no longer require a screen. Right now, the vast majority of AR apps require some form of camera to enable the overlay of 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. In the words of Microsoft inventor, Alex Kipman, “I’m talking about freeing ourselves from the two-dimensional confines of traditional computing”. We like to think that will happen. Watch this space!

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