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The Best Augmented Reality Apps, and 5 Business Fields to Apply AR

To many people it may sound like a bunch of words; others may have heard about it in passing; but only a few understand exactly what Augmented Reality is actually about. What we know for sure is that Augmented Reality (AR) is a big trend in the mobile sector, and the number of applications based on this revolutionary technology is growing rapidly.

But what is AR? Is it going to make the world a better place? And can it actually benefit your business? Today’s article sets out to answer these and other questions, as well as to give you a number of real examples demonstrating the fantastic capabilities of AR.

Two ways to ‘augment’ reality

In a technical sense, augmented reality is technology that enriches the real world with digital information — such as GPS data, 3D models, graphics, audio or any other computer-generated sensory inputs — by superimposing them on real-world objects seen through a camera on your smartphone, PC, or connected glasses. In a romantic sense, augmented reality is a bridge between real and virtual realms that helps us understand the world around us.

But how can we create AR? Generally speaking, there are two approaches that rely on two different types of technologies:

  • Marker-based AR

Marker-based AR uses black and white markers which serve as activators for additional information when a camera is pointed at an object. These markers are images, such as QR or 2D codes, which contain information and prompt some action when they are sensed by software.

Marker-based augmented reality has been widely used in advertising, such as paper catalogs, magazines, and posters. With these mediums, markers printed in physical content trigger 3D projections of products.

best_augmented_reality_apps_marker_based_AR

[Source: NMY]

  • Sensor-based AR

The second type of AR doesn’t require black and white markers. Instead, sensor-based augmented reality uses the Internet, cameras, and a whole range of optical and other sensors such as GPS, compasses, accelerometers, and gyroscopes that are built into devices. With sensor-based AR, you can point your phone in any direction and see the world augmented with image and media overlays.

best_AR_mobile_apps_snapchat_lenses

[Source: Snapchat]

5 fields that can benefit from AR technologies

The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets has provided possibilities for AR that are not possible with PCs and Google Glasses, which are either inconvenient, pricey, or discontinued. Both marker-based and sensor-based AR can be useful for numerous mobile applications.

How can you take advantage of augmented reality in mobile app development? Here’s  a list of industries that have already unlocked the great potential of AR technology. Let’s see what AR on mobile devices is capable of!

1. Entertainment

Augmented reality is always fun. Not surprisingly, the gaming industry has taken notice. Take Niantic, for example, which is thought to be the first game company to employ GPS-based augmented reality gameplay in Ingress, a mobile massive multiplayer game that’s been available for both Android and iOS devices since the end of 2012.

To play Ingress, you need your smartphone’s camera, GPS, and a strong Wi-Fi or mobile internet connection. Using all these technologies enables you to capture portals located at places of cultural significance such as buildings, sculptures, memorials, installations of street art, and so on. Thus, your smartphone helps you find sites of interest.

Working together with your team (faction) members in Ingress, your mission is to track down and capture as many portals as you can and then unite them into virtual sectors known as ‘control fields’, which are laid over geographical areas. The idea is to collect the most ‘mind units’ (people) captured by such control fields.

Ingress has a rich sci-fi background and is definitely worth a look. Here’s a YouTube video showing Ingress in action.

  

But however fascinating Ingress may be, the mantle of the most popular AR game of all time goes to Niantic’s recent brainchild, Pokemon GO. This new AR-powered game took the world by storm a few days after its release.

Amazingly, Pokemon GO even managed to surpass Facebook in terms of time spent in the application and surpassed Twitter in terms of the number of active daily users. Moreover, Pokemon GO is thought to be the most popular game ever released in the US, according to SurveyMonkey.

As with Ingress, Pokemon GO also uses a smartphone’s camera and sensors alongside location-based algorithms to place well-known Pokemon in the real world. As a result, we now can see crowds of Poké zombies wandering around the streets and searching vigorously for their darling Pikachu or Snorlax.

But Pokemon GO is not limited to locating and caging pokemons into white and red Poké balls. It's way more multifaceted than you think. However, let’s not get distracted from our main topic, as we have loads of other important things to discuss — such as Pokemon GO’s monetization strategy!

best_AR_apps_pokemon_go

[Source: Pokemon Go]

Like any other game developer, Niantic doesn’t hesitate to use in-app purchases. But it seems that the company hopes to earn even more money using a secondary monetization strategy — sponsored geotagged meetup locations.

The rules for such meetup locations are clear: businesses pay to become meetup spots, as being a meetup spot drives an abnormal quantity of foot traffic to their establishment. So far, being a PokeStop of PokeGym is a matter of luck, as the game itself decides where to place them. But soon, wise entrepreneurs may change this by locating these spots where they would be most useful.

Snapchat’s Lens feature is one more example of how augmented reality can be used for entertainment. Snapchat Lenses use facial detection to add real-time effects to snaps — transforming your face into a cute puppy’s muzzle or spewing rainbow vomit out of your mouth. But there’s a lot more potential for AR.

Since October 2015, Snapchat has been working with various brands to create so-called Sponsored Lenses. At costs ranging from $10,000 to $750,000 for a one-day availability, these special Snapchat filters feature your brand in the application. The cost is very impressive indeed!

Surprisingly, such a pricey ad format is in great demand among many vendors. According to Business Insider, Snapchat has managed to run more than 50 Sponsored lenses since its start. Among well-known partners are 20th Century Fox, Marvel, Taco Bell, Gatorade, Carbury, Sony Pictures, and Tiffany & Co. Each has tried to promote itself in Snapchat by providing their own filter tied to a specific event.

Thus, Sony Pictures purchased a one-day ad right before the release of its Ghostbusters movies this July. What’s more, the Ghostbusters filter is thought to be the first-ever dual lens in the history of Snapchat. The lens lets you use both cameras of a mobile device to shoot the good old Slimer hovering nearby.

best_AR_applications_ghostbusters_snapchat_lens

[Source: AdWeek]

Tiffany’s last lens, featuring the company’s logo and signature robin egg blue at the top of photos, is a part of Tiffany & Co’s new strategy to promote its newly launched “Return to Tiffany” collection. To reinforce the effect, the company has even recruited a group of young models — Imaan Hammam, Fernanda Ly, and Pyper America Smith — to appeal to younger demographics through their snaps with a touch of Tiffany’s colors.

It’s said that the company has spent around $700,000 for this promotion. However, the actual price hasn't been disclosed yet. It goes without saying that Snapchat has just come up with the wittiest monetization strategy ever!

adopting_augmented_reality_snapchat_tiffany_lens

[Source: Glossy]

Facebook’s recent actions confirm that augmented reality is a promising field and that the IT giants want a slice of the pie. Earlier this year, Facebook acquired Masquerade, a Belarusian startup behind the AR-powered mobile application MSQRD. Facebook explained that this move was going to further enhance its video experience, and it seems they have finally decided how to take advantage of this acquisition. It will soon be possible to stream live videos (with all the masks and filters) from MSQRD right to your Facebook feed.

Starting August 23, Facebook fans (namely teenagers under the age of 21) can enjoy a new social application called Lifestage (now available for iOS devices). Lifestage is very similar to Snapchat in some respects, letting users shoot short, ephemeral videos, set different geofilters, apply fancy stamps, and so on. But there are no Snapchat-like AR lenses in the app yet, but who knows what the future holds.

2. Retail

What if you don’t want to deal with in-app purchases or in-app ads? What if you want to focus on physical goods instead? Augmented reality helps the retail industry solve numerous problems associated with selling physical merchandise. Ikea and LEGO are two retail companies that are already using this technology to the fullest.

Starting in 2013, the Swedish brand IKEA has allowed you to visualize any piece of furniture right in your own apartment. To do so, you just need to use an AR Ikea app and a paper catalogue that contains the B&W markers we mentioned previously.

Simply place the catalogue in the spot you want to see your future houseware, scan the catalog using the application, and then choose a desired item. The app will then project a 3D model of this item laid over a real-time view of your home, so you can see whether it’s really worth buying or not. Moreover, the application measures the size of a product against the objects surrounding it to provide as realistic an experience as possible.

best_augmented_reality_app_Ikea

[Source: Ikea]

LEGO uses a different strategy which is aimed at increasing traffic to their stores. The company has come up with an AR-driven photo app that allows its users to take cute pictures with their favorite LEGO characters or constructions.

LEGO In-store Action, as the company named its brainchild, enables you to scan special LEGO posters in selected stores to evoke an animated LEGO Minifigure in your phone camera’s viewfinder. You can take numerous photos of you and a real-size LEGO hero next to you, save them to your camera roll, and even share on social networks. The application is being constantly updated, so you may see new characters emerging every day.

3. Beauty

Augmented reality and the beauty industry are a great match, as a couple of applications prove.

Makeup Genius, by L’Oreal, uses AR to help you find your perfect makeup. The app even managed to win the 2016 GLOMO Awards, having become the Most Innovative Mobile App according to Image Metrics.

Makeup Genius provides a range of looks you can try on by holding your phone like a mirror — from daily, natural skin-tone makeups to bright and extraordinary ones you can wear at night. Makeup genius will also offer a list of the brand’s cosmetics to help you reproduce a certain look on your own. Plus, you can easily buy the necessary L’Oreal products to achieve a look right within the application.

best_ar_apps_makeup_genius_loreal

[Source: Style]

Ink Hunter is another AR product which can be easily associated with beauty nowadays. This app can project any tattoo design to any part of your body to see what it would look like. Since ink is permanent, it’s great to have an app that can help you imagine the outcome of this important decision. Unfortunately, Ink Hunter is only available for iOS right now.

For Ink Hunter to work, you just need to draw a small marker on yourself, choose a design you want to see on your body (either an uploaded image or a preset one), and then point your iPhone at this marker to show the future tattoo’s preview. Ink Hunter also gives the ability to scale and rotate an image, so it’s possible to customize it however you like.

4. Tourism

Pointing your phone at a building to find out when it was built or who lived there is no longer just a scene from a sci-fi movie. This approach has already been used in the tourism industry for a while. And it’s become possible thanks to augmented reality.

Actually, Niantic has one more application powered by augmented reality, only it has nothing to do with gaming. It’s all about travelling and discovering the world around you.

Field Trip, released exclusively for Android by the well-known software development company, is a great tool to help you learn about anything from a local building’s history to the fanciest places to shop, eat, and hang out.

As Field Trip runs in the background, you’ll see cards pop up when you approach something really interesting. What’s more, you can set any places you’re interested in — a historical landmark, a market, or the nearest place to drink and relax — and Field Trip will alert you when you’re close by. You can also point your camera at an object of interest and watch a card with its history right in your camera view.

adopting_AR_wikitude

[Source: Wikitude]

Another interesting example is the Wikitude app for iOS and Android, which works much like Field Trip but has even broader abilities. Wikitude lets you enter any term, “bar”, for example, and then raise your phone and check (using the camera, of course) if there are any matches around you. If so, you will see a description about this place. Wikitude relies on many content sources, including Wikipedia, Citysearch, and other users’ inputs, to offer insights about the world around you.

Moreover, Wikitude provides a one-of-a-kind SDK allowing your to build your own augmented reality applications, both location-based and vision-based.

5. Science

What if you add a dash of augmented reality to science? It would be great! Here we have a few augmented reality applications showing that science can be really exciting.

Star Walk by Vito Technology is a progressive mobile app and the best tool at present for exploring the night sky. If you’ve always had a thing for astronomy, this stargazing app is just what you need.

Using a range of built-in mobile sensors and geolocation data, the Star Walk app gives you insights into the secrets of the Heavens and the objects resembling it. The app is able to distinguish among more than 200,000 celestial bodies and provide you with exhaustive information about the stars, planets, satellites, constellations, and other things captured by your phone’s camera.

adopting_AR_star_walk

[Source: Star Walk]

But what about those making every effort to uncover the secrets of the Universe; those who go further than watching the Skies and dive into this depth of unknown? NASA has a pile of cool applications not only aimed not only at showing off their findings in space exploration but also at involving more and more people in this activity.

Spacecraft 3D (iOS, Android) is a mobile AR application that lets you see and interact with miniature versions of numerous spacecrafts and spaceships that have explored our solar system. To use these apps, you need to print an AR Target, put it on a level surface, and then use your device’s camera to activate the facility projection. Chances are you will see an Apollo 8 or Mars Pathfinder sitting right in the middle of your apartment.

As you can see, there are already a number of great applications using augmented reality as part of their business model. Although in its infancy, this technology has already proven to be one of the biggest trends in the present mobile industry. Have we reached the limits of what AR can do? Will augmented reality evolve dramatically in the upcoming years? Are we going to see more mature AR-driven applications soon? Everything depends on you and your vision.

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