WebAR is the gateway drug for AR

Is WebAR about to have its moment? Garry Williams, Business Director at UNIT9, a brand innovation partner that has created a 5G-enabled AR celebrity BAFTA dress for EE, a vast immersive treadmill-powered video game for Nike and a World Record-breaking giant playable game of Candy Crush thinks the time has come to start viewing the world through a mobile lens.

 


If 2020 is really going to be the year of AR (as many, myself included, tout it to be) it will be driven by three factors: heavy investment in the medium by social platforms; mobile data being made available at scale and at speed; and – most importantly – the maturation of WebAR platforms, which mean immersive AR experiences can be opened directly through a web browser, with no bespoke app download needed.

The first two factors are already in full swing. Snap alone boasts 130-million daily users of their AR lenses and Instagram’s public-facing Spark AR Studio has inspired thousands of businesses and private users to create AR filters. Meanwhile, 5G has already hit the UK market, changing the game in mobile connectivity.

Despite this breakneck pace of development, out of all the AR growth factors, WebAR is set to have the biggest impact.

Despite this breakneck pace of development, out of all the AR growth factors, WebAR is set to have the biggest impact. Opening an AR experience directly through a web browser, rather than through a purpose-built and downloaded app, opens up mobiles to frictionless AR experiences. So WebAR has the potential to unlock mass use by removing pesky barriers-to-use.

Current WebAR platforms – including 8th Wall, Blippar and Zappar, amongst others – are doing incredible work to give developers and publishers the building blocks they need to create AR through web browsers. However, WebAR could possibly also find it’s sweet spot in the development that’s happening with opensource AR software like AR.js.

The AR.js framework offers WebAR while being completely open sourced, even for commercial applications. What’s more, it’s updated frequently; compatible with all browsers and devices; can easily perform a speedy 60FPS easily; and is reasonably easy to use. Creating an AR experience with AR.js can be as simple as building a webpage with 10 lines of code.

 

So WebAR is now a thriving field of interest, served by an increasing number of platforms and development kits. But how can it be used to creating amazing mobile experiences?

One of the most interesting commercial applications is using WebAR to trigger strategic experiences at important moments during the consumer journey. Thanks to WebAR, mobile AR experiences can now be conveniently triggered from point-of-sale, out-of-home billboards and even from the products themselves. A recent , for example, used WebAR to transform billboards in Waterloo station into live train departure boards.

Although this particular activation is launched by a QR code, developments are being made so that image recognition can be used instead to trigger an experience, rather than an ugly QR code. There are caveats, however: the image ideally needs to be flat, on a non-reflective material and of a certain size. But as long as the computer vision AI within a mobile device can detect certain feature points of an image, it could be used. This would make it even easier for people to experience Web AR in the future.

However, whilst the possibilities that browser-based WebAR opens up are incredibly inspiring, it is important to note that the platform has limitations.

However, whilst the possibilities that browser-based WebAR opens up are incredibly inspiring, it is important to note that the platform has limitations. For example, it’s not capable of providing the fidelity of assets, the tracking capabilities or the stability of app-based AR. So when considering an AR activation, businesses should devise an overall AR strategy, rather than picking specific routes such as social AR, app-based AR or WebAR. It’s important to figure out how the experience’s assets can be leveraged to their full poential across every AR channels.

One smart way to crack the problem is to use WebAR and social AR for barrier-free entry-level experience that drive users to richer app-based experience. It’s for this reason that WebAR is the perfect gateway drug for bringing AR’s full potential to a mass audience and getting them hooked.

If businesses start thinking more about an overall AR strategy rather than a single route to market, then AR really will fulfill its true potential, both in terms of scale and creativity. I’m excited to see how WebAR will shake up this most amazing of mobile mediums.


Garry Williams, Business Director at UNIT9

 

 

     

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