Insight 21st August 2019

Web AR

Is it worth it?

Since augmented reality (AR) became a big thing, the best experiences have been app-based. Think Pokemon Go, or any of those handy AR features that have been added to brand apps, from ASOS to IKEA. But while this type of AR offers advanced technical capabilities, trying to get people to download an app can be tricky. That’s why people have started looking seriously into Web AR. Ben Graves, developer here at Immersive Studios, takes a look.


What is Web AR?

Web AR refers to augmented reality experiences that are accessed through a web browser rather than an app. This means all you need is your smartphone or tablet and an internet connection, without having to download an app directly onto your phone. At the moment Web AR offers a limited selection of the main features possible using app AR, including simple animations, video and a certain degree of interactivity. Web AR can also support image target detection to trigger experiences.


How do you build it?

Because this is a web application, there are platforms that support the creation of web AR which are similar to normal web development platforms. We’ve been using A-Frame, which enables the creation of 3D assets and environments using a web framework that looks similar to HTML. A-Frame and other applications are supported by 8th Wall, which is currently the leading SLAM tracking SDK for web AR on the market.


What are the benefits?

As already mentioned, the overwhelming benefit to web AR is the fact you don’t have to download an app directly to your device. With an app, the size, data allowance for download and device type, etc, can all prove a bar to getting people to use AR, but Web AR makes it more immediately accessible and doesn’t eat up people’s data through chunky downloads – in turn helping AR campaigns and experiences to be more relevant and useful. What’s more, web AR can run to a certain extent on most browsers – so you don’t necessarily have to have a certain specification of device in order to support AR – again increasing the reach of a particular experience.


What are the limitations?

It’s still early days for web AR, so there are limits. Performance is simply better on an app, where there’s capacity for more memory and therefore better visuals, better animations and better interactivity, etc. One of web AR’s challenges is the limit of your operating system web browser – there’s only so much memory a web page can have, which has a knock-on effect on the visual and performance quality, and so on. What’s more, a web page can only have access to certain parts of the device you’re using, whereas a native app can access all of a device’s capabilities. Because of these things, an AR experience through a web browser will necessarily be more basic than that through an app – meaning if you want the convenience of web AR, you need to be thinking of simple but effective experiences instead.


What will web AR be like in the future?

At the moment, it’s hard to say. As mentioned, Web AR is currently limited mostly by the browser – so how much the technology will develop rather depends on what the big players like Google and Apple develop. What seems certain is that Apple is very much betting on AR, so it would be both beneficial and make sense them them to build their own AR capabilities straight into their operating system – and a web browser is the simplest option. In any case, web AR is proving the case for quick and convenient AR experiences that, although simple, can have a real impact – so it’s likely we’ll only be seeing more of this capability in the future.


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