AR gives you superpowers. Literally.
With the help of a computing device and augmented reality technology, our senses can now be enhanced thanks to the juxtaposition of virtual elements onto the real world.
With Internet at our fingertips, available 24/7 across the world via our smartphones, we already are much more intelligent. AR can get us to go beyond that.
Augmented Reality lets you see the pipes beneath a road and sidewalk, or even get the emotional response from a crowd in real time while giving a speech, as machine learning algorithms can now deduce sentiment from human facial expressions. Firefighters can enter a building, navigate their way through it as if they knew it beforehand and see useful spots annotated.
Augmented Reality brings about new ways of getting information, interacting with it and in the end solving needs.
2D interfaces and tactile screens will always stay relevant in certain cases. Just as Virtual Reality is now also an option, depending on what you want to achieve.
What is Augmented Reality good for?
If you’re considering creating something with AR you should ask yourself (and your team): why would using AR makes the user experience better?
You might then realize that you don’t really need it!
Let’s start by analyzing when AR is NOT relevant compared to other interfaces.
Vs. other interfaces
If screens are ever to be replaced entirely it won’t be for a while because they still have a legup for many applications.
One obvious use case example where 2D screens still win is reading.
It would make absolutely no sense to have this article in AR, with pixelated font, floating mid-air in front of you to read it.
In fact, with current technology AR is probably not the best for displaying things that are 2D by nature. AR headsets may change that but, today, regular screens are more relevant for:
- Viewing photos or videos
- Typing an email
- Reading long texts
Nevertheless, Augmented Reality doesn’t have to be used through a dedicated / AR-only app. As we’ve seen with several very successful examples, companies have incorporated AR as part of their much larger mobile applications with more traditional 2D screens. So when creating an app don’t hesitate to throw AR in the mix, integrating it as a feature in your existing “2D app”. When some features make more sense to be in AR, integrate them that way and vice-versa.
Take Snap, for example. The famous social app added a layer of augmented reality through filters and lenses, pioneering what it calls “a new kind of camera’. That was integrated perfectly with more traditional “texting features”.
Versus Virtual Reality
We often talk about AR & VR in association and pointing the difference between the two in terms of the “what”. Though the question is: why would you use AR over VR (and vice versa)?
VR makes sense when you need complete immersiveness. When you want to recreate an environment to submerse your users in. An environment could be a plane cockpit or an operating room.
Real context is irrelevant here and can even be distracting or add confusion.
It would seem less impactful or even odd to see a virtual operating table with your patient overlaid in the middle of your kitchen!
Given current technology, VR also offers a much larger field of view. Whether you’re experiencing AR through a headset or a handheld device, it doesn’t compare.
The Magic Leap One AR headset for instance offers a 40° FoV. Sure it’ll improve. But at the moment VR headsets are the way to go if you want your users to have the illusion to see something that’s really big at scale, like a football field or a scene. It really depends on what you want to achieve.
That being said, we see VR headsets now integrating cameras, providing AR capabilities so the two technologies will probably converge.
AR versus AR
Today the lack of consumer AR headset available on the market creates major limitations as to how you can use this technology. You’re left with having to hold a smartphone / tablet which is less than ideal. Why?
First, people might call you out in public for pointing your phone at them, as you’d represent a threat to their privacy. Pointing your phone to the ground, however, with AR apps displaying something around our feet appears rather less threatening.
Secondly, this kind of use can’t be too long because it’s obviously tiring – like holding a cardboard to watch a 10-minute VR documentary! That’s why it’s been recommended to limit the time of interaction or, again, place objects around the user’s feet. This is definitely a current constraint for developing an AR app available on the Stores.
So some would say that Head Mounted Displays are essential to mass adoption of AR. They definitely solve the first problem (tired arms) but are worse nightmare for the second (privacy).
Today, AR headsets are still quite expensive and reserved for professionals as opposed to VR headsets which have a much better mass market penetration.
Hopefully this is about to change as we see Magic Leap making progress in the right direction and rumors of companies such as Apple working on AR glasses.
I believe that ultimately the “fashion” aspect of AR glasses -how you look with them- is underestimated and critical for social acceptance.
But enough said, AR headsets and glasses will be the topic of our following article.
Why should you use Augmented Reality ?
Should you use it because it’s shiny and new and has higher viral potential?! Even though, that might be true, an AR experience won’t really be successful if not built with the inherent characteristics of this medium in mind. It’ll only be a gimmick.
The AR Relevance Framework
After putting together a list of 160+ AR apps, it appeared that Augmented Reality can be boiled down to 2 strengths:
- Visualization force
- Contextual augmentation
2 pillars. That’s it. That’s what AR is all about.
In fact, any AR app can be rated along these 2 axis. And they’re the reasons behind why you should use augmented reality. Great AR apps are bringing value by adding a layer of specific capabilities that rely on at least one of these 2 strengths.
Augmented Reality is fantastic for viewing objects in 3D – like a 3D map for example. You can visualize relief, get closer to “zoom” on a building, turn around to view it under different angle and overall interact with it as if you were flying around!
You now have the possibility to visualize the bike you want for Christmas as if it were there next to you in real life scale.
Things that are very interesting to display in AR are things that would be hard to bring physically, whether it be because it’s rare, too big to transport, too small to see, or even nonexistent – extinct or not manufactured yet.
In these cases, it can makes sense to create a digital copy to view with Augmented Reality. A prototype of an airplane motor would be a good example.
Funny enough, the same argument applies for humans too! Meeting someone face to face is critical for business though it can be very expensive to fly someone in. We’re close to Augmented Reality technology that can let you see someone else and their body language in real-time allowing for instance to run meetings with people from around the world as if they were there (cf: Star Wars or Kingsman). And combined with 3D models of objects, it makes for perfect remote workshops!
This visualization force can indeed make it easier to understand complex concepts. A teacher can use AR to explain how an engine works with a 3D model. Students can see all the different parts and how they fit together, how they move… thus better understanding the role of each one.
Another advantage of interactivity with AR (and VR) is being able to practice and perform actions safely. Mistakes are okay and without consequences, it’s all virtual! So there are some interesting potential applications in the medical & energy industries.
AR has to bring value and offer ways to visualize things that wouldn’t render as well otherwise. As mentioned, there’s no point in having a legal document floating in the air to read…
What about a virtual TV?! Sure it could be cool to turn any wall or table into a big screen. However, the technology is not there yet. With AR as with VR, you’re looking through a screen, so a virtual screen can only be as good as the resolution of your headset or device. Given AR’s current progress, you might be better off buying a video-projector… which are now far more affordable than a few years ago.
Augmented Reality allows you to escape the “confinement” of the screens and 2-D worlds. As humans we see and think in 3D. However, current technological limitations have trained us to convert 2D images into 3D concepts.
If you’ve ever mounted IKEA furniture,that’s what I’m talking about : you had to interpret drawings – line really – to properly assemble 3D objects together.
But with AR, there’s no need for conversion. No need to mentally trying to figure out an object representation in space. You just see things as they are. How the pieces of your bed fit together, step by step.
These apps are have high visualization force and low contextual augmentation.
- Human Anatomy Atlas – A great app to see inside and better understand the human body.
- Stack AR – A simple game where you have stack up blocks as high as you can.
Contextual augmentation is about providing useful, relevant information or elements related to what’s around us. Now, that’s the true force of Augmented Reality.
A great example, as we’ve seen among the first uses of Augmented Reality apps, was the ability to identify the nearest metro station.
Ultimately, the question is “does it matter where this AR element is positioned when pointing your device?” or “Could this app work the same way anywhere?” If the answer is not a resounding no, then there’s some contextual augmentation at play.
But that means that the AR app has to be contextually aware first. It has to be able to understand the users real environment to properly add information and enrich anything around them. It implies a capacity to recognize objects, places, buildings, people…
Once that’s possible – and is definitely no easy feat – it opens up a whole new range of possibilities for interacting with the real world. Imagine pointing at lights to dim them on and off, changing TV channels with natural gestures. In fact, with smart glasses we could probably get rid of many physical buttons.
— Keiichi Matsuda (@keiichiban) August 28, 2018
When you start thinking outside of the screen, you can envision how blending the world of bits with the world of atoms can be life changing.
The world becomes your browser. Objects? Pages.
Although the internet may have made the world flatter in terms of being able to access the same resources from almost anywhere. AR on the other hand can serve ultra-relevant, unique information/objects for a specific environment.
Pokemon Go is the perfect example of that, as the game sometimes only reveals a Pokemon at a precise location for a short period of time.
In fact, context is not just about you surroundings, there’s also a time component to it. If I’m walking past a store that I might be interested in I need to get the memo when I’m in front of it or before, not when I’m two blocks away! (and I walk fast)
This new form of interacting with the world means taking into account the users’ surroundings as opportunities but also considering them as potential constraints. When designing your AR app it’s impossible to predict what these surroundings will actually be when the app is used. A problem can arise if an object or someone is in the way of a user trying to interact with a virtual element from your application.
These apps are have low visualization force but high contextual augmentation.
- AirMeasure – Instead of using a ruler, this app lets you measure anything with your device.
- Sky Guide – Hold your device overhead to automatically find stars, constellations, planets, satellites and more.
- Ink Hunter – This app projects any tattoo design on any part of your body so you can see how it will look.
Visualization Force + Contextual Augmentation
Being high on one of the 2 axis is enough to make a great AR app.
Here are some examples of apps that rank high on both. They take advantage of being able to visualize things while providing immense value by displaying them in a specific spot.
- IKEA Place – Lets you virtually ‘place’ IKEA products in your space.
- Snap filters – Overlay fun elements, often on top the user face
The cherry on Top
A third axis could be added that only makes AR more exciting: Real-time users-to-users interaction!
What do you have when you add a multi-user experience on an AR experience that has a high visualization force? You get a game like SwiftShot!
In this game players on each side of a table have to knock down the opponent’s slingshots.
What we bring to the table
Whether you want to explore how AR could be relevant to your business or already have a few ideas about it, Novora can help you.
We specialise in developing Augmented Reality Applications and have already created a few for large brands.
We’d love to discuss your project – please contact us HERE.
Also, feel free to leave a comment below!