Virtual reality and augmented reality development brought investments to the tune of $2 billion from July 2015 – July 2016, according to industry analysts Digi-Capital. Venture capital firms like the VR Venture Capital Alliance, which currently holds over $12 billion in deployable capital, continue to bear out AR and VR as far more than just another tech fad. Augmented reality design is big business, and will only grow as time goes on.
Between the two technologies, augmented reality is far more accessible to the general public, and therefore can capture a wider market. Where VR necessarily requires some type of specialized equipment, even the ultra-cheap Google Cardboard, augmented reality can work with nothing more than the user’s Android or iPhone. Dedicated AR headsets certainly exist, but AR apps offer just as striking an experience, and are far more practical for most users.
So how is this new technology finding its way into the broader user base? As with every tech trend, developers and investors are scrambling to find the best path to creating an effective, useful, and profitable app.
The most successful augmented reality apps to date have fallen into one of two broad design categories. Both are equally viable, and there are numerous great examples of innovation and success in each. Here are some of our favorites.
Augmented Reality from the Ground Up
The first option when designing an augmented reality app is to make AR the sole focus of the software. Some of the very best AR experiences, tools, and games rely entirely on the technology to function.
AR apps in this category are some of the most innovative of the technology, pushing the boundaries of what augmented reality is and how it can be practically employed. This newness can also be a weakness of this type of app, however. Without an established brand or tech to lean on, the AR features of the app must stand on their own.
Star Chart is one of those truly magical experiences that can bring anyone back to a childlike state of wonder. The user simply aims his or her phone at the night sky, and the screen illuminates and identifies stars, constellations, planets, and other astronomical objects.
Star Chart represents one of those moments that makes everyone stand up and take notice. It genuinely makes learning fun, indulges curiosity in an entirely new way, and brings the power of AR into sharp focus. Developers asking themselves how to design an augmented reality app that will truly be impactful should take a long look at what Escape Velocity has done.
Perhaps the first augmented reality messaging app, WallaMe takes the age-old tradition of wall graffiti and updates it for the smartphone era. Users can aim their phone at a wall or any other real-world object and draw on it on their screen. Other WallaMe users passing by receive a notification that a message is within view, and can pull up the app to find it.
WallaMe is interesting in that it essentially creates an augmented reality social media platform. The messages are strikingly reminiscent of Facebook or Instagram posts, with the addition of physical location. Whether by design or simply a nice side effect, the app also removes issues of legality and safety from street art by making the practice entirely digital.
One of the brightest lights in augmented reality app design is Blippar. Essentially an augmented reality search engine, users of the Blippar app can bring up a variety of text, video, and audio content simply by pointing their phones at objects in the real world. The most impressive aspect of Blippar is the depth of its recognition engine. It feels like almost everything in the world can elicit some type of useful response from the app.
What makes Blippar so powerful is that it capitalizes on a habit already ingrained in every smartphone owner: the tendency to pull it out and Google information while shopping, eating, or exploring. Blippar makes that modern day tradition faster, more fun, and to the delight of brands, more controlled. Blipping is one of those rare convergences where an app is equally useful both to consumers and marketers.
iPhone/iPad only: Link
A theodolite is a surveying instrument used to precisely measure angles. It is an essential tool for engineers in fields ranging from meteorology to rocketry, and has gone largely unchanged since its invention in the 16th century. In 2009, hundreds of years later, an augmented reality app developer named Craig Hunter finally updated it for the digital age.
The Theodolite app uses augmented reality to create a “multi-function viewfinder”, allowing users to precisely measure and explore the world around them. The app can be used to accurately calculate the distance to an on-screen object, fix one’s direction and location, create topographical maps, and a slew of other functions. Theodolite makes a strong case that sometimes “more is more”, successfully throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the digital world.
Augmented Reality as a Feature in a Larger App
Augmented reality is also often used to add some new functionality or splash to apps that do not wholly rely on the technology. There are countless apps already well-established in the market that later added some AR features, either “just for fun” or, more interestingly, to make themselves more useful. Brands also love to use AR in their marketing, making a huge impression relatively easily.
There are numerous advantages to designing AR features into an app, even if the app does not strictly require them. Augmented reality is a genuinely useful technology, and nearly any app or game can be improved in some way by its presence. AR is also very much in the public eye at the moment, and represents an opportunity that can be leveraged by an existing app or brand to gain some attention and press.
Here are some of the best ways AR is being used to supplement (or augment) apps and brands, including perhaps the biggest AR app of all time.
Although its user base is finally shrinking, the impact of Pokémon GO cannot be overstated. Millions upon millions of players continue to stalk the streets, hunting down Pikachu, Squirtle, and the rest.
Pokémon GO is the app that truly brought augmented reality to the mass market. Millions of people who had barely heard the term are today eagerly searching the app stores for the next big AR experience.
Most amazingly, Niantic accomplished this with an app whose design doesn’t even really need the technology. Turn off the camera, and the app works just as well. Pokémon appear instead on a computer image of a grassy field, similar to the original games.
Yelp is arguably the king of the user review platform. Millions of users access the website or app each month to weigh in on local restaurants and other businesses, or to browse reviews written by others. Yelp is basically a way to crowdsource the answer to the oft asked question, “Where do you want to eat?”
A few years ago, the app introduced its Monocle feature, which leverages the power of augmented reality to make looking up reviews even easier and a great deal more fun. Users point their phones at nearby businesses, and their Yelp ratings appear on the screen as if by magic.
It’s fast, efficient, and even carries an advantage over the traditional interface. By aiming one’s phone up a street filled with shops and restaurants, one can immediately identify which one is beloved by the locals, and which should be avoided.
Google has had an online translation engine for many years, and untold numbers of people have relied on it to translate online content and the odd piece of speech since its inception. It wasn’t surprising when Google released a mobile app neatly packaging their existing capabilities to translate more than 50 languages.
What was surprising was their incorporation of a dramatic augmented reality feature. Since Google’s acquisition of augmented reality app developer WordLens, users of Google Translate can now point their points at any piece of text in the real world. Onscreen, the letters rearrange and reform themselves into the language of the user’s choice. It’s an amazing bit of splash and flair that is only made possible through AR.
Hyundai Virtual Guide
Automotive manufacturer Hyundai has taken the old standby of the car owner’s manual into the modern world with their Hyundai Virtual Guide app. Currently supporting just two models but with plans to expand, the app gives Hyundai owners all the information they need to use and maintain their car, in the palm of their hand.
Although the guide could easily have been nothing more than a simple document, Hyundai has gone above and beyond to design a useful augmented reality app for drivers. Peer under the hood or into the cabin through a smartphone lens, and the app highlights each button, display, and engine component. It’s a wonderful use of augmented reality to make car ownership easier, more fun, and more accessible to the average user.
AppReal-VR Helps Make Augmented Reality Apps
AppReal-VR has its roots in mobile app development, virtual reality, and in leveraging the latest cutting-edge technologies to create tangible, useful tools. As such, the company is very well positioned to develop augmented reality apps.
Whatever your needs or stage of development, AppReal-VR can support your idea and business. The company offers a complete suite of consulting and advisement services, as well as top to bottom app development.
In the first stages of releasing an AR app, choosing the right partner should be at the top of the agenda. AppReal-VR is that partner.