Everyone and their grandmother have heard about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. But, now, there is a new frontier in town. And his name is Augmented Reality. Are you prepared for the next step in mobile application evolution?
The future tech is going to be a lot more than just smart, it’s going to be extremely intelligent. And this new trend is already prevalent in our day to day lives.
In early February 2019, Google announced that it is rolling out an AR version of Google Maps. The rollout is currently limited to a select few people, but the main takeaway here is that big brands are pouring money into this new tech.
Take a look at this demo as provided by WSJ:
We also know that big names like Snapchat have been working on expanding their AR operations.
In recent news, Snapchat collaborated with Lebron James to create an interactive mobile-based AR experience.
This specific AR project allows for mobile users to hover their camera over a specific object (built by Snapchat), and the smartphone will output a unique AR experience.
You can see that preview here from this tweet:
.@KingJames dunking at Foot Locker through Snapchat AR. 👀
— B/R Kicks (@brkicks) February 6, 2019
This specific preview garnered more than 2M views in less than a week. As such, it’s the perfect signpost to let everyone know that AR is creeping into the mainstream.
What is Augmented Reality?
Unlike VR (Virtual Reality) which makes you submerge yourself in a virtual environment, AR is all about augmenting the present reality with technology.
Take the HoloLens 2 for example, which Microsoft just announced and opened pre-orders for. HoloLens 2 still uses an overlay glasses system, but rather than isolating the real world entirely, the HoloLens glasses provide an addition to your existing reality.
So, for example, you can do things like browsing the web, connect with your smart home, or manage phone calls and other things. It’s kind of like being an Ironman without the suit on.
But don’t expect to have to wear a headset in order to take advantage of augmented reality.
As we briefly mentioned already, there is a lot of AR coming to mobile applications.
And 2019 will be a definitive year for framework development and other tools that can help developers to create great AR experiences.
We know that companies like NexTech AR are taking a massive leap in bringing augmented reality experiences to digital (retail) shopping.
Doesn’t that look amazing? You can preview products and see how they would fit inside your overall design by using only your phone.
This new AR trend extends to things like virtual try-on for glasses.
Warby Parker’s released an app recently that lets you try on glasses straight from your phone’s camera.
And thanks to integrated AI tech, the glasses actually match your face structure to give you the most realistic feel for it.
Needless to say, there is going to be plenty of AR in the enterprise too. In particular, expect big innovation to happen in healthcare, science, space programs, and education.
The Best AR Tools You Can Get Your Hands On
If 2018 was sort of a ‘seed year’ for augmented apps and tools, then 2019 is definitely going to introduce some definitive XR (X-Reality) use cases.
And in case you are lacking inspiration, here are some of the best AR tools that you can currently use and play with on a daily basis.
Have you always wanted to learn how to draw but didn’t know where to start? Drawing or sketching on a piece of paper without any direction can be an absolute nightmare.
As a result, most people give up long before they even begin. And this happens to be the area that SketchAR is targetting.
The app is built to help you learn drawing by using sketch-trace technology. The combination of neural networks, artifical intelligence and computer visions ensures that Sketch can trace detailed and complex drawings.
In a recent update, SketchAR added a ‘virtual assistant’ to the app. This assistant will further help you learn about different drawing techniques by sending you recommendations and tips.
It’s a neat little app that lets you point your phone at the wall, and you can simply draw images by tracing the lines as recommended by the app’s screen.
As briefly mentioned earlier in the article, Snapchat is very active in the AR community. And one of their flagship tools, Lens Studio, has been used by hundreds of development agencies across the world.
At its core, Lens Studio is a sophisticated tooling system to let you create fun and dynamic Snapchat lenses. You know, funny glasses or other types of “tattoos” that you can put across your face.
The introductory video is amazing at explaining the intricacies of Lens Studio in full detail.
Keep in mind, Lens Studio has only been out for less than 2 full years, so there is going to be plenty of amazing innovation for years to come.
Great AR Frameworks to Get You Started with Development
Okay, maybe there aren’t that many AR tools on the market so far. And that’s nothing to be surprised about.
Most AR development so far is happening in-house. Meaning, the costs associated with AR research are still quite high.
But, despite a “high cost of entry”, this hasn’t stopped brands and startups from working on amazing Augmented Reality frameworks.
Google, Vuforia, Microsoft, and Apple are just some of the companies sticking their neck out to make AR move forward faster.
And the following segment is dedicated solely to AR frameworks that you can use to start building true AR experiences for your apps and products.
You can rest assured that Apple amongst other giants is going to invest a ton of their resources into AR. In the case of Apple — iOS is one of the largest mobile systems in the world.
As a result, it will pay great dividends for Apple to prepare their systems for the inevitable influx of a new paradigm in app development.
The second-generation of ARKit 2 adds features such as shared experiences, persistent tracking, 3D object detection, and more.
The framework is continuously developed to help developers create new and exciting AR experiences for iOS.
Google is also in the mobile OS business (Android). Google’s equivalent of an AR SDK is called ARCore.
The development platform has seen great use already, and expect Google to bring even more tools to ARCore for easy AR development.
We know that ARCore relies heavily on the phone’s camera to gather data, information, and map out the surroundings.
Further, ARCore supercharges smartphones with dynamic sensors that can understand the surrounding environment if an application is developed for this direction.
Google itself is adopting ARCore for its own in-house projects, so there’s going to be a ton of development in this area.
This might be your first time hearing of Vuforia, but actually, these guys have been around for a number of years now.
Although you can use it for any project (including gaming), Vuforia tries to focus on bringing AR to the industrial level.
Remember those unrealistic CGI effects in movies like Mission Impossible? Yeah, well, Vuforia wants to make those effects a reality, even if it’s augmented.
The company is trying to transform how humans interact with technology, and how technology itself is understood.
I do recommend checking out this lecture from Coursera, it’s a nice and neat introduction to what Vuforia is bringing to the table.
Interestingly enough, Wikitude is probably the oldest ‘true AR’ app that we have on our list. This SDK has been operating since 2008 and is now starting to pick up steam as we push through this initial modernization of AR tech.
Apart from being the oldest, it’s also one of the most popular. In fact, Wikitude ranks third in terms of popularity.
It’s a universal SDK that’s trying to enable brands to build complex and in-depth projects.
Wikitude’s technology can recognize images, and also track them. Also, you can track 3D objects (with Unity support), and utilize GEO data that you have access to.
The only limiting factor here would be the pricing, which starts at $2800 per year.
XZIMG is a seamless framework to help you integrate in-depth face tracking inside your AR projects. This real-time toolkit gives developers a means to effortlessly integrate face tracking using refined AR methods.
By developing with XZIMG, you can integrate this face tracking inside mobile and desktop apps, inside the browser, or any other device that supports AR input.
At the moment, XZIMG is divided into 3 unique products, each having a specific set of features.
Here’s a quick rundown:
- Magic Face. This is a solution for makeup-based and faces replacement applications.
- Augmented Face. This is a facial tracking technology that works through the Unity plugin.
- Augmented Vision. This product recognizes simple images and black-and-white markers.
You can use each product through a Trial version. See if you like the tech, and if you do, purchase the full license.
OpenCV is best known as the Open Computer Vision library, which was created by Intel and is now a full-blown open-source project.
The library is available for all major operating systems, including Windows, OSX, and Unix.
Further, OpenCV is probably the most popular and most advanced Vision-based library on this list.
With strong ties in image processing, visual analysis, machine learning, and motion detection — OpenCV is seeing a lot of use in the AR space.
It’s an extremely capable library for visual tasks and is kept under consistent development.
More and more brands in the furniture industry are experimenting with augmented reality.
The likes of Westwing, IKEA, Lowe, and many others who are actively trying to bring AR tech directly to consumer homes.
The most prominent way to use AR in furniture-related use cases is to enable consumers to preview a specific product without having to leave their home.
So, for example, you could be browsing Amazon for a new decorative lamp for your bedroom.
And, rather than using pictures to compare a fit, you could simply point your phone to the specific area and see what the lamp would look like if placed there.
This happens to be the area in which ViewAR excels. It’s an excellent framework to use if you would like to build ‘AR viewing experiences’ for your business.
Automobiles are one of the industries where AR has been present for quite some time.
For example, those rear-view cameras that help you park your car? That’s pure augmented reality experience.
And WayRay is trying to revolutionize the industry by developing strong holographic AR tools for the future of vehicles.
Not only has big names like Porsche invested enormous money into WayRay, but the company is also openly sharing its SDK with developers. Meaning, you can jump in on the development experience yourself.
True AR SDK – an augmented reality development framework for third-party developers which allows building AR apps for cars. These are the apps that run on holographic AR displays and complement the native AR interface. AR app content consists of virtual objects seamlessly integrated into the world around the car. The company plans to distribute the developed applications through its own AR marketplace.
Keep a close eye on these guys as they revolutionize the car industry.
Spark AR Studio is a Facebook-owned framework for creating augmented camera effects.
You can use Spark to adopt certain effects onto your visuals as presented by the camera of your phone. You can, for example, add floating effects or 3D objects.
And, you can create an interactive ‘reality’ where gestures invoke certain effects or actions.
It’s still a work in progress, but expect for this library toolkit to grow in size as Facebook invests more resources into it.
What do you think? Are we looking at the future of digital interactions here?
As far as I can tell, AR is officially on the fast-track lane.
So, expect major announcements from big brands, but also plenty of innovation from smaller developers.
If you are looking to learn how to build AR apps then check out this brilliant online course.
If you know other Augmented Reality resources that we missed to include in this post, please don’t hesitate to reach out with your recommendations. We will accommodate them as they come.