Augmented Reality (AR) for Mobile

While for many of us augmented reality (AR), as well as its sibling virtual reality, sounds like the technologies of tomorrow, the fact is today AR for Mobile is much more common than you may think. Many people use augmented reality on mobile devices without actually realizing it. From taking goofy photos using camera effects to navigating the city, augmented reality slowly sneaks into our daily routines, spoiling us with so-addictive visual interactivity. Retail is one of many industries where mobile AR technologies have become a true game-changer. The stats say that 61% of those shopping online prefer AR-powered sites that enable them to “try” the product virtually before buying. As more businesses today consider jumpstarting their customer interaction, here is a short introduction to what AR is capable of, its prospective uses, and the best AR apps for Android and iOS.

Augmented Reality definition and uses

Augmented reality is a set of technologies that uses a mobile camera to “read” the real, physical environment and alter it by overlaying digital content (such as filters, graphics, 3D objects, labels, text, directions, etc.) over it.

The main benefits of mobile-based augmented reality are the ease of interaction, availability (the number of smartphone users keeps growing exponentially), and improved user experience through intuitive visual functionality. As for user engagement, AR for mobile creates literally limitless opportunities in nearly every business niche, but the most popular uses of AR still are

  • Education. AR beats conventional training methods with its unparalleled visual demonstration possibilities.
  • Retail. AR’s ability to visualize digital objects (products) in a customer’s real environment and “try them out” facilitates decision-making and boosts sales.
  • Entertainment. AR-powered holograms and image enhancers create room for fun and creativity.
  • Everyday needs such as navigation, translation, visual search, remote maintenance, monitoring, etc., where the blend of digital and physical can create value.

History and Evolution of Augmented Reality

From the first introduction of the AR idea and the first AR headset in 1968 until the mid-2010s, AR was a thing only computer geeks knew about. Everything changed in 2016 after the loud release of the first AR-powered game called Pokémon Go featuring a superimposed character. It was a true bombshell in the gaming industry.

Apple was the first company that saw the potential of mobile-based augmented reality. In 2018, they came up with ARKit aimed to equip developers in building AR mobile apps for various industries. Google followed the trend by releasing its ARCore a year later.

Due to its immense interactivity benefits, AR technology quickly spread across various industries where visualization or demonstration was critical. The COVID-19 outbreak positively impacted the AR technology evolution because of the shift towards digitalized shopping many retail businesses had to adjust to social distancing and physical sale restrictions. AR helped brands like IKEA, Wayfair, and many others deliver more personal, and thus, more satisfying online shopping experiences via virtual “trying-before-buying” functionality when physical locations were unattainable.

Today, the AR market grows apace and is expected to reach over USD 88 billion by 2026, with Facebook and Google being its major investors. AR tech giants are working on more sophisticated AR devices such as glasses, headsets, screens, etc. Still, as of today, mobile AR remains much more popular due to the lower cost and wide dissemination of mobile devices.

Differences between VR and AR

Despite very similar names augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have many conceptual differences. Plus, virtual and augmented reality on mobile devices don’t work the same. This table will help you to understand the difference.

Effect on realityAdds to the existing physical reality by overlaying digital elements over it.Creates an alternative, entirely digital reality that replaces a physical one.
Rules of interactionUsers can engage with AR as they see fit and according to their physical environment.Rules of interaction are dictated by the VR system.
Devices requiredA mobile device such as a smartphone with a camera is sufficient for getting an AR experience. Still, it can be somehow limited as compared to AR experiences offered by special AR devices such as screens, glasses, headsets, etc.VR cannot be accessed on mobile devices only. A special, rather expensive VR headset is required.
The scope of actionMobile AR is applied only to the area captured by a camera.Via special devices, VR provides a full immersion into all-encompassing computer-generated reality.

Best AR apps for iPhone and Android

For everyday life:

Google Lens (iOS, Android)

This absolutely genius augmented reality mobile app helps users search for products or landmarks, identify plants/animals, or translate text by just focusing their smartphone camera on the object.

Google Translate (iOS, Android)

This is one more cool augmented reality smartphone app by Google that can be extremely useful for travelers and students learning foreign languages. It provides downloadable language packs for easy real-time translation even without an Internet connection.

For educational purposes:

Night Sky (iOS)

Apple’s approach to AR is just stellar in the Night Sky augmented reality phone app that makes stargazing not only pleasant but also informative. This AR mobile app uses smartphone sensors, geolocation, and a camera to display the magnificent sky map and its objects on a phone screen in an interactive and easy-to-understand way. Those having Android devices should try Star Walk 2. On top of similar functionality, this app also enables you to see how the night sky looked or will look on a certain date in history.

For retail (eCommerce):

IKEA Place (iOS, Android)

Augmented reality offers tremendous branding benefits. IKEA was one of the pioneers of AR-powered eCommerce that took the online shopping experience to another level. Its iconic IKEA Place app lets online customers place 3D models of furniture into their physical interior and see whether they fit or not. Such an approach helped the brand significantly lower the number of returns and boost engagement with the brand.

As the AR shopping craze evolves, more products can be bought online using augmented reality. For example, Wanna Kicks AR mobile app can help you customize and virtually put on sneakers of different brands before buying your perfect pair.

For design:

uMake (iOS)

Design is another niche where mobile AR can be extremely useful. uMake helps design products using available drawing/designing tools and then superimpose the designs to real-life environments, save prototypes, and even export them as videos. Those interested in interior design may also like Houzz. This augmented reality smartphone app helps not only plan fantastic interiors by testing different 3D design elements but also buy necessary items in-app.

How AR can change our lives

We already mentioned the role of Augmented Reality for Mobile in branding, design, education, and retail — niches where customized user experiences are critical. However, the visualization power of AR can bring value to many not-so-obvious niches such as manufacturing, maintenance, training for disabled people, healthcare, etc. For example, AR is already being used in surgery and diagnostics, helping doctors detect illnesses based on visible symptoms. AR in car engineering helps drivers see navigation prompts and hazard alerts on car displays, contributing to better safety.

We at ABNK believe the future of this technology is very bright and it will continue to bring us even more practical benefits and entertainment.