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Mobile Augmented Reality: Biggest Trend in App Development

Last year Pokémon Go and face swap apps took the world by storm, thus proving users are totally ready for Augmented Reality. Considering the fact that the global AR market will top $ 56 billion by 2020, the technology will most likely dominate the App Store and Google Play through 2017 and beyond. How does Augmented Reality work on mobile? What are the best examples of AR in mobile app development? Read on to find out!

The state of AR mobile apps

Although Tim Caudell, a researcher at Boing, coined the Augmented Reality term in 1990, the concept of embedding computer-generated images and videos into user environment had been around since 1968 (the Sword of Damocles HMD system).

How does Augmented Reality – the technology that initially powered headsets – work on mobile? When it comes to AR apps’ tech stack, most Augmented Reality applications rely on markers (such as QR codes) or sensors (GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes and other smartphone gear) to place graphics on top of pictures or camera feed. More sophisticated titles like FaceApp and DeepHand also employ neural networks enabling users to edit images and interact with AR objects in real time (respectively).

Due to several vulnerabilities discovered in early AR apps (which include insecure gateways and third-party APIs disabling security filters in Web browsers) companies were reluctant to invest in the new technology. Vendors’ enthusiasm was also cooled by the miserable failure of Google Glass and unconvincing Magic Leap prototypes.

It all changed last year when Pokémon GO got 50 million downloads within 19 days and generated $ 10 million in daily revenues in its prime. The viral game also proved to be an effective customer acquisition channel for museums and catering facilities that bought pocket monsters to increase attendance.

Now AR’s potential is recognized by Facebook, HTC and Apple. The latter, for example, has compared the emerging tech to the invention of smartphones and even hopes to replace iPhone with AR devices one day.

Mobile Augmented Reality Biggest Trend in App Development

Top 4 industries to benefit from the use of Augmented Reality in mobile apps

  • Retail. Years before Niantic’s viral game IKEA, the world’s biggest furniture retailer, launched a sleek mobile/tablet app that employed the Augmented Reality technology to virtually furnish users’ apartments with 3D furniture from the company’s catalog. Another example comes from Rebecca Minkoff, a US-based clothes and accessory designer who promoted her new product line with Zeekit. Minkoff’s potential customers can now overlay items from her catalog on their pictures and make better buying decisions (which results in lower return rates). In a world where customers return 30% of products purchased online investing in AR mobile apps development could be a potential game changer for retail companies;
  • Tourism. In the early 2010s Tokyo’s Sunshine Aquarium registered a significant drop in attendance. The facility’s board figured out potential visitors couldn’t find their way to the aquarium due to multiple distractions (including bars, cinemas and shopping malls) that had been built in the area in recent years. In order to reignite public’s interest, they launched Penguin Navi – an AR application that uses GPS data to place cute penguins on top of a camera feed. Once you happen to be in Tokyo, the virtual penguins will guide you all the way to the facility. The innovative solution helped Sunshine Aquarium increase attendance by 152%. Originally developed for Google Glass, the Field Trip application is now available on iOS/Android smartphones and smartwatch. The app runs in the background and notifies users once they pass a place of interest, be it a 17th-century castle or a great pizzeria. The use of mobile Augmented Reality solutions helps tech-savvy companies improve customer engagement and brand visibility. Why not follow their example?
  • Gaming. Although Pokémon GO received mixed reviews from tech experts and switched from “free-to-play” to “pay-to-win” months after its launch, it became the biggest mobile game in US history (21 million daily users) and generated $ 950 (!) million in revenues. However, it wasn’t the first AR app built by Niantic. Back in 2012 the company released Ingress – a multiplayer AR game with a sophisticated storyline involving underworld monsters, artefacts and energy portals. The game (which has multiple fan communities around the globe) has generated over 11 million downloads. Unlike endless runners and meaningless shooters, AR games encourage players to spend more time outside and interact with each other – and that’s exactly what makes gaming fun;
  • Entertainment. Snapchat, a popular image messaging app with 160+ million daily users, unveiled its Lenses last year – to rave reviews from both smartphone owners and advertising agencies. The app uses the face recognition technology to enhance selfies with cat years, deer horns or…taco shells. Yes, we’re talking about Taco Bell’s famous 2016 Cinco de Mayo promo campaign. The Lens which transformed users’ heads into a giant taco got 224 million views within 24 hours, thus beating Gatorade’s Super Bowl record (165 million views). There’s also MSQRD, a face swap app that employs 3D rendering and face tracking to place graphics on top of your face in real time. Alongside Pokémon GO, face-morphing apps have taken AR’s popularity to the next level – right where it belongs.

Mobile Augmented Reality Biggest Trend in App Development

3 reasons why Augmented Reality has taken off

  • Novelty factor. Although sceptics insist it’s the power of nostalgia and not the gameplay itself that made users get off the coach and walk miles in search of pocket monsters, you can’t deny the fact that Augmented Reality is the biggest thing in mobile development since Instagram and messengers. What’s more, it’s the only app niche with little competition and room for improvement. If you consider building a mobile app this year and don’t have next Candy Crush up your sleeve, you’d better stick to AR;
  • Technology advancements. Unlike Virtual Reality apps that require dedicated headsets, AR has no entry barrier – and that’s the major reason why AR investments will reach $ 90 billion by 2020, dwarfing VR by 300%. The number of smartphone users has already surpassed 2 billion. iOS and Android app development companies are getting more familiar with neural networks and deep learning. Sensors are getting cheaper, too. Provided you address a reliable vendor, you’ve got every chance to build a high-performance AR app at a reasonable price;
  • Ultimate benefits. Although it costs up to $ 750 thousand to run a sponsored Snapchat campaign for a single day, the company has already created over 50 promo lenses. Forward-thinking brands like Taco Bell, Marvel and Sony Pictures explore new customer engagement strategies including beacon-triggered notifications and AR apps and…win big. Remember Sunshine Aquarium?

The global mobile app development market is undergoing a rapid change. Through 2017 and beyond, less than 0.01% of all mobile apps will achieve commercial success. For better or for worse, the days when Flappy Bird could top the App Store charts are over. Unless you embrace innovation today, you’ll be outperformed by your tech-savvy rivals tomorrow.

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