Everywhere you look, augmented reality is gaining influence. Entrepreneur magazine predicts that AR will make its way into people’s lives in three huge ways this year. ABC Online teases that 2018 may be the year AR goes mainstream. Apple made a huge show of support for augmented reality when it made its iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X compatible with the technology. In doing so, the company has joined the AR bandwagon in a big way.
With so much buzz surrounding AR, I decided to talk to an AR expert about the finer points of the user experience. Bobby Gill is the co-founder of Blue Label Labs, an AR design, development, and marketing agency.
As a recognized expert in AR app design, just how big is AR right now?
Bobby Gill: AR is definitely gaining momentum in the marketplace as we hear more of our clients asking us for ways in which they can integrate AR into their existing products, services, and operations. Part of this recent surge of interest can be attributed to the recent popularity of AR games like Pokemon Go!, which has brought the first real mainstream adoption of an AR product.
The tooling and capabilities of the mobile platforms themselves are starting to focus on AR as a first-class experience. Apple’s recent introduction of ARKit is opening the doors for developers to begin delivering AR experiences, as it lowers the cost of entry to create AR experiences, and the platform natively provides much of the heavy lifting in creating them.
As opposed to VR, which still requires powerful (and bulky) hardware to run properly, AR can be implemented easily across mobile devices, tablets, and wearables, so there are a lot of different ways we can implement the technology. Unlike VR, there are legitimate real-world use cases for adopting AR, whereas VR is still looking for its “killer app.”
How will AR shape the future of UX design?
BG: In the short term, I see AR actually being adopted in business operations. For example, training and diagnostic programs for using machinery, as well as assembly-line quality control, are two very real AR scenarios in which we see a lot of interest.
From a UX perspective, creating non-intrusive dashboards that present the most relevant contextual information in a way that doesn’t hinder the user from performing their primary task is a challenging UX problem. Being able to quickly cycle through multiple objects that a user might be looking at is proving to be a cumbersome challenge for UX designers. Since much of the interest in AR is coming from manufacturing and process-oriented applications, I think we’re going to see the re-emergence of devices like Google Glass, which provide a hands-free way to provide contextual AR experiences to workers without interfering in their workflow.
When building AR apps, what are some of the most important UX considerations?
BG: In business applications, the most important consideration is that the interface needs to be context sensitive. It needs to be minimal, yet rich enough so that it provides actual value to the user rather than being an annoying distraction. This is going to be a very difficult balance that AR applications need to achieve. UX designers will need to really think about how they display the most crucial pieces of data without the AR experience itself becoming a hindrance.
In consumer applications, I think the most crucial part of the design is going to be how well the AR UI meshes with the real world. The fun of AR is seeing the world around us come alive in a fun and realistic way. An AR experience that doesn’t work well or isn’t integrated into the real world will be quickly ignored by people.
What advice do you have for designers who want to start designing for AR?
BG: Before designing any AR experience, it’s really important for a designer to understand what is and isn’t possible given today’s technology. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of dreaming up pie-in-the-sky AR experiences that, given the current platforms and technology, just aren’t easily built.
To help understand the practical limits of today’s technology, I encourage designers to try out as many AR apps and games as they can: Go out and play Pokemon Go!; get your hands on a new Google Glass X and see what types of experiences other people have built; talk to a mobile developer and listen to them to get an idea of the advantages and disadvantages of each platform in regards to AR.
Which platform is the easiest to design/build AR apps for?
BG: At this point, iOS is definitely the place to be for creating AR experiences. Like I mentioned before, Apple’s ARKit really lowers the entry barriers for a mobile developer to start integrating AR experiences.
Whereas, a developer would previously need to have integrated a variety of open-source tools ━ some of which don’t work so well ━ to get even the most basic AR capabilities, Apple’s ARKit provides a well-designed foundational toolkit that takes care of a lot of the baseline challenges faced when creating an AR-enabled app. Apple’s ARKit signifies Apple’s commitment to the paradigm, and while it is still a young framework, I fully expect its capabilities to continue to grow with each new iteration of the operating system.