Augmented Reality (AR) has evolved from adding simple graphics as an overlay to images to simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) experiences that are rendered in real time in a user’s environment. While custom designed AR Apps like those offered by Dreemar have been part of the AR evolution from the birth of this technology, recent developments by several mainstream giants such as Google, Apple and Microsoft have been building platforms based upon WebAR, i.e. AR experienced through a common browser as an alternative to native app-based AR experiences. This has resulted in the debate amongst both the marketing and developer communities on which is a better choice and this blog attempts to take a neutral look at these.
But before we go further, let us understand WebAR in more detail.
WebAR is a relatively new development allowing delivery of AR experiences using native web browsers across devices and operating systems. AR mobile apps, on the other hand, need to be downloaded and installed onto a mobile device. Thus, the only differentiating distinction between the two approaches at face-value, is the decision to explore AR through a dedicated APP or within a browser.
The Key WebAR Advantage
The only distinct important advantage of WebAR over an App based AR solution is the uniformity of the experience across all devices, platforms and operating systems, allowing marketers to cast their AR net to a wider target group. This is an attractive business proposition especially for short-term promotions and to specific audiences with the potential for reduced costs and greater ROI.
That said, where the simplicity of using a WebAR solution is attractive, unfortunately the major companies involved in this evolving technology are yet to agree on an agreed global standard meaning that each party have developed distinctly different models and solutions to what should be a common delivery.
The issue is further complicated in that without a common standard, companies are forced to provide a solution that is very much browser specific, for example works well on Google but not necessarily on Safari and so forth, furthermore any updates to the browser may render the WebAR disabled.
A further obstacle at the time of writing is that WebAR relies entirely on downloading each experience as triggered. This posses a challenge where an end-user is limited by bandwidth for example in a low signal zones or has restrictions in terms of their telco plan if the experience is taking place outside a Wi-Fi zone. A further complication is that the resulting AR experience is limited to smaller file sizes and hence cannot be complicated or realistic in nature if viewed using mobile data plans in many countries.
In reality WebAR certainly has its place and the continued efforts to standardise the structure and meet an agreeable specification that all developing parties can agree to work within for a common application base will continue. That said there is a growing base of WebAR solutions primarily linked to specific browser platforms, but still providing the capabilities of AR experiences within defined limits.
Richer, Immersive Experiences Are Still the Domain of Native Augmented Reality Apps
Despite its potential advantages under specific circumstances moving forward, WebAR still lags behind in terms of delivering highly immersive, high fidelity AR experiences as compared to augmented reality apps. There would also be certain limitations in terms of the features, interactivity and engagement that can be created, as the content created needs to be compatible with a multitude of devices, browsers and operating systems. Moreover, browser-based AR as discussed, only work well with good internet connectivity and could fall flat in its absence.
And this is where native apps really score. With a custom created AR App, you have more control over not only which type of devices have access to the content for the best experience, but also over offering an option for offline use as well by embedding the AR experiences within the App itself where required.
Moreover, Apps can offer much richer user data and insights, that help you refine your AR campaign and improve upon it. With reference to the Dreemar Blog on Augmented Reality Analytics, analytical feedback as an example provides a wealth of user based interactive data that is a corner-stone of developing the next campaign and AR experiences.
You would also have the opportunity to build an engaged virtual community through a native app, which would not be the case with WebAR, thus if you are planning a long term AR campaign, or want to offer a very customized experience to your users, then investing in building your own AR App would be the logical choice. You could also consider exploring Dreemar’s intuitive AR platform, to create customized AR experiences easily, and enjoy all the benefits of a native App without having to build one.
To sum up, while there are some obvious pros and cons to both options, it would be best to decide on the ideal choice on a case to case or project basis. If you are looking to engage at scale for a short burst of time and within a specific target audience and browser configuration, WebAR could be a good option. However, if you are looking to create and deliver a richer, more informative experience that is more easily deployed and able to reach a wider selection of users across a range of devices and OS, a customer build AR App would be the better choice.
At Dreemar, we enjoy bringing everything AR to life, and would be happy to assist you decide on the best way your company can capitalize on this technology.