Does the Future of Mobile App Development Lie in Augmented Reality?

Does the Future of Mobile App Development Lie in Augmented Reality?

Although smartphone owners spend 52% of their digital time in apps, it is social media and messaging applications that displayed a whopping 394% growth in usage last year. The mobile app market’s further development is now driven by APAC countries. With 5 million applications on Google Play and the App Store, less than 1% of app projects enjoy commercial success. Will mobile Augmented Reality help vendors re-engage users and… make apps great again?

The evolution of mobile AR

Ever since Pokemon GO took the world by storm in 2016, IT experts have been wondering whether Augmented Reality will revive mobile app development – and revival is actually what mobile vendors need.

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In a nutshell, Augmented Reality is a technology that integrates computer-generated images into user environment through a HMD, PC display or smartphone camera feed. Simple Augmented Reality mobile apps rely on QR codes or GPS data to place visuals correctly; more sophisticated offerings like MSQRD and Snapchat employ Artificial Intelligence algorithms to transform users’ faces and surroundings.

Although the concept of Augmented Reality dates back to 1960s (Ivan Sutherland’s Ultimate Display), it’s not until early 1990s that the technology found real-world applications in training and education.

Here’s a short list of mobile AR apps that made headlines back in the day:

  • Wikitude. The first AR-like mobile application that displayed relevant content (including info on historic landmarks, shops and catering facilities) based on location data via a mobile web browser was released in 2009;
  • The Sampler. In 2010 Converse, one of US most famous footwear companies, unveiled a sleek iOS app enabling users to virtually try on trainers and shoes from Converse digital catalogs, share pics on social media and make in-app payment transactions;
  • Ingress. Niantic, the driving force behind Pokemon GO, challenged the Augmented Reality mobile app market with Ingress 5 years ago. Unlike Pokemon GO, the multiplayer game has an elaborate plot involving energy portals and underworld creatures who want to control people’s minds. Since 2012, the game has been downloaded 14 million times and is played in over 200 countries;
  • IKEA. In order to reduce return rates (through 2013, 14% of IKEA customers purchased furniture of the wrong size), the world’s largest furniture retailer built an Augmented Reality app triggered by QR codes. Available on both the App Store and Google Play, the app scans markers which correspond to particular items from a printed IKEA catalog and injects real-size 3D injects into a smartphone/tablet camera feed;
  • LEGO Fusion. Back in 2014, the Danish construction toys manufacturer released an Augmented Reality app that visualized images of LEGO models and placed them on an empty playing field, thus enabling LEGO lovers to create their own city-building mobile game;
  • Pokemon GO. Last but not least, Pokemon GO is the very app that reignited VC interest in Augmented Reality and made it mainstream. Mere weeks after its launch, Pokemon became the biggest US mobile game ever (21 million daily users) and went on to generate 980 million downloads by the end of 2016. What’s more, many businesses (including brick and mortar stores and horeca companies) purchased pocket monsters or partnered with Niantic to turn their locations into PokeStops and registered a significant increase in attendance.

More examples come from Snapchat, a popular social media app that designed a plethora of face-morphing filters and lenses which add 3D objects to photos and videos, and Facebook whose CEO encourages third-party developers to create filters for FB Camera Effects platform. Finally, there’s Apple. The company is currently working on an ambitious project aiming at bringing the new tech to the masses. Tim Cook has even compared AR’s potential to than of a smartphone; it’s no wonder the global Augmented Reality market will top $ 50 billion by 2020 (up from just $ 1.72 billion in 2014)!

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Why Augmented Reality?

The participants of Unity’s 2017 Visual VR/AR summit (which took place in Los Angeles a month ago) shared an opinion that Augmented Reality will soon outstrip its Virtual cousin. Clive Downie, CMO at Unity, says AR will enjoy mass adoption, while Virtual Reality will most likely remain a high-end option for people craving for “deeply immersive experience”.

Unlike AR which merely places 2D/3D images and animations on top of a photograph or live video, Virtual Reality solutions completely replace user environment with 3D content (crafted in 3ds Max and Maya) and surround sound.

According to Pavel Shylenok, CTO at R-Style Lab, modern VR apps – including games and programs employed by real estate agencies and healthcare organizations – contain 2D panoramic images and deliver the so-called “rail shooter experience”, thus preventing users from interacting with virtual objects or pacing the room without banging their heads against the wall.

And that’s why AR has a lower barrier to entry.

  • In order to develop an app similar to IKEA Catalog, you don’t need to employ an army of 3D modelling and texturing specialists;
  • AR apps do not require dedicated hardware (a high-quality HMD costs anything between $ 100 and $ 800);
  • Users are totally ready for new experiences – after all, Face Swap Life, MSQRD and Snapchat were the biggest apps of 2016!

John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, reckons the future of AR “is more mobile than PC-like”. Mark Zuckerberg claims the first mainstream AR platform will be smartphone cameras. Companies like Apple and Samsung pour billions into AR projects. Provided you address a reliable Android/iOS app development company, you can benefit from the new tech, too.

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