Augmented reality in mobile: technologies and use cases
AR: what is it good for?

Diana Sadykova
June, 2020

Augmented reality, or AR, is the technology that puts virtual objects on top of the real world image; hence the name.
Its position is rather ambiguous nowadays: it isn't widely adopted and requires powerful processors to work. Also, numerous efforts are devoted to implementing the technology into wearables: helmets, glasses, and contact lenses. Despite them, most people still use AR with the help of smartphones and tablets thanks to better performance, battery life and well, because people always have their smartphones at hand anyway.

Unfortunately or not, we aren't in this phase of AR development yet.

Nowadays, AR is mostly used in retail, education, and game development verticals. It's a great tool for adding interactivity, as well as showing your product from all possible angles. For example, IKEA Place shows you how their furniture would look in your room, SketchAR helps you learn to draw, and Pokemon GO — I guess, everyone knows about Pokemon GO. It's the most renowned app that uses AR as the main feature, after all.

Depending on the type of trigger, AR can be marker-based, markerless, and location-based. This is a huge theme itself, so I'll focus on markerless AR frameworks in this article. They don't require an image, QR code or location data to work.
Most ARKit issues come from the decision to rely just on the device power to process AR. On the other hand, ARCore developed by Google relies on cloud services.
To implement AR functionality in apps, developers mostly use either native ARKit and ARCore or 3rd party frameworks like Vuforia.

ARKit is an SDK developed by Apple. They lead the way in the AR race at the moment, aim to drive technology adoption and regularly add new features that enhance the quality of the AR experience. For example, the latest iPad Pro even has a LiDAR scanner that is mostly used by self-driving cars to navigate the environment. And there are rumours that Apple plans to present AR glasses soon — a project that Google failed to accomplish.

Strong points of ARKit include stable tracking, peer-to-peer multiplayer, and realistic reflections. Also, it can hide virtual objects behind a real person, using People Occlusion feature, which helps to avoid breaking immersion. ARKit recognizes even surfaces painted in a single colour like walls or tables — with varying degrees of success.

As for disadvantages, ARKit is only available for iOS devices with A9 or later processors (A12 and A13 for ARKit 3.5), has difficulties with creating lighting and shadows, and can't occlude objects as it does with people. Moreover, it suffers from a common downside of all AR SDKs: if you try to place a virtual object on an enamelled surface, there's a huge chance it won't be recognised. Most ARKit issues come from the decision to rely just on the device power to process AR.

On the other hand, ARCore developed by Google relies on cloud services. It helps to achieve better mapping, lighting, occlusion and relocation — but for all of these things to work properly, you need a device from this list and stable Internet connection. In comparison to ARKit, ARCore falls short on the stability of tracking and might require sensors' calibration due to a huge amount of discrepancies among Android devices. With ARCore SDK for Unity, you can use this engine to create apps for both Android and iOS.

Vuforia provides even wider devices' support and can be used for the development of iOS, Android, and Universal Windows Platform apps. This framework was developed in 2010 and contributed to the decision of Apple and Google to create ARKit and ARCore. According to AppFigures, it's still the most popular SDK for AR apps.

Also, Vuforia can use either its own technologies and engine or ARKit/ARCore ones. Thus, even older devices that aren't supported by native SDKs and some AR smart glasses like HoloLens and MagicLeap can use this framework. While Vuforia includes unique features on top of main capabilities similar to native SDKs and has a version baked right into Unity, it's a paid solution and doesn't have the same amount of control over devices' hardware like Apple and Google.

And of course, all solutions are pretty heavy on the device battery. Markerless AR uses a camera, image recognition, orientation and direction sensors at once.
Use Cases
The list of ways how AR (and, specifically, AR glasses) can make picking of products easier is incredibly long. For example, imagine a shopping trip to a supermarket with the help of an app that quickly identifies your favourite products on the shelf, compares prices and ingredients, tells you if it fits your diet plan or warns it can cause an allergy response. Or you can come to a dealership and easily compare how a car looks in different colours.

Also, online shopping will become easier when AR develops enough to get rid of current issues with body tracking. Most frameworks recognise only faces, and the virtual try-on is already used by companies like NYX Cosmetics and L'Oreal Paris to show their make-up products. However, right now there's no easily accessible way to check how clothes would look on you — but the technology is definitely on its way.

Augmented social media
Instagram and Snapchat already compete in this field and even created their own frameworks, Spark AR and Lens Studio, to add filters, masks and 3D models to photos and videos. It's highly likely AR will be used in social media ads as well. For example, we can expect a virtual try-on feature right after seeing an ad: it should greatly drive the product sales, help influencers to market them, and decrease a chance you'll buy something online that doesn't fit you.

Google Maps introduced Live View last year. It's an AR mode that allows seeing both a traditional map and AR arrows pointing you in the right direction. It looks like a prototype and doesn't seem handy even during walking: personally, I'll be tired in ten minutes holding a phone in front of me. Regardless, it shows pretty well what visuals AR glasses can use to help us find a way somewhere.

Manufacturing and User manuals
IKEA manuals are incredibly comprehensible but when AR shows you where and how to install it, it's even easier to assemble something. And if you ever felt anxious about numerous indicators in a car, apps like this explain what they mean. Again, a smartphone isn't the best platform for such features — but it shows how we can augment the visual information and make a learning curve easier for customers and workers.

The list goes further as almost any field of human life relies on our ability to see and can benefit from AR. The actual usage might differ a lot from representation shown in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or sci-fi films but it can definitely be a serious competitor — or at least a great addition — to screens.

Are you interested in developing an AR project or add augmented reality features to your app? Quality Wolves to the rescue — just contact us!

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