Mobile augmented reality (AR) is the use of augmented reality on a mobile device to integrate computer-generated content with the real world. Digital information is overlaid on top of physical objects using the device’s camera.
As users move their devices the AR overlay updates in real time, presenting the user with new information relating to what the device “sees.”
How does mobile augmented reality work?
In simple terms, the first step in mobile AR is to capture data from the real world using the device’s camera. This could be from objects, text, barcodes, IDs, or a combination. The data is then used to select and overlay relevant digital content.
For example, mobile AR overlays make it easy to stand in front of a shelf of products in-store and compare promotions, reviews, allergens or other features. Customers scan a shelf of products with their smartphone. The AR app recognises barcodes and/or label text, and overlays personalized, useful information onto each product.
This ability to overlay actionable, real-time information onto products, inventory, equipment or physical processes promises to shake up the way that companies deploy data and deliver a competitive boost in efficiency, speed and customer experience.
Mobile AR is also distinct from other forms of augmented reality because it utilizes the smart devices we all have in our pockets, rather than specialized AR headsets.
Specialized AR devices are coming into play, such as the Apple Vision Pro headset announced earlier this year, which combines both augmented and virtual reality.
However, in the immediate future many people – and businesses – will be more attracted to mobile AR. The pragmatic use of existing, widely available smartphones and tablets makes AR accessible today, to almost anyone.
The global installed base of rugged wearables is expected to reach 3.6 million by 2026, according to VDC. This isn’t a lot in comparison to the 50 million rugged mobile devices already in use, and the close to 5 billion smartphone users worldwide.
What is an example of mobile augmented reality?
One of the most popular examples of mobile AR in action is, of course, Pokémon Go. The mobile game, which still tops the charts years after release, allows users to search for and “collect” Pokémon characters while they are out and about. Viewing the world through their phone camera shows Pokémon apparently in the real world.
“Phones are good because it’s the technology we have today,” John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, told the BBC recently, while also talking about the company “leaning into” headsets. It’s an example of how mobile AR realizes business benefits now, while also providing a testing ground for applications that will run on specialist AR devices in the future.
But mobile AR is about far more than games, and has features that excite users at work just as much as they do during play.
What are the advantages of mobile augmented reality?
Entertainment applications may be the most high-profile uses of mobile AR, but the greatest advantages and opportunities are arguably in other business sectors.
Many of us will have used mobile AR software that visualizes different pieces of furniture in our own homes. For example, IKEA has a function on its app that enables this, letting shoppers use their phones to see how an IKEA sofa would look in their living rooms.
Beauty brands such as Arbelle have developed AR tools that allow users to try on makeup products virtually before ordering them.
Yet, despite being impressive – and exciting in the way they can engage and delight customers – these ideas still only scratch the surface of what mobile AR is capable of.
It holds particular promise for roles that involve mobile employees. (VDC estimates that the mobile workforce accounts for 1.8 billion workers worldwide.)
Far from being a desk-based or purely digital technology, mobile AR is most useful to business sectors with a foot in the “real world”.
Enterprise applications also don’t necessarily involve flashy, labor-intensive graphics. Instead, they often use simple icons or pop-ups to provide immediate, intuitive guidance about what product to pick, what parcel to deliver or where to go next.
Retailers, logistics and supply chain firms, civil engineering projects, emergency first responders, plumbers, electricians, and field service staff are all examples where immediate access to information held by the wider organization could increase productivity and streamline reporting.
- Field service staff would be able to review plans and diagrams as they work, reducing the down time of machinery or systems that are being checked.
- Retail employees picking orders in store could find the exact product they need – particularly helpful when trying to find one among many similar products on shelf.
- The same employees could see stock levels, delivery dates, price validation, and expiry dates at a glance with a single AR scan of a shelf.
- Delivery drivers could scan a batch of packages and be given instant guidance about optimum loading order. When they get to a destination, AR overlays help them identify a single parcel among many fast.
- Employees in distribution centers could be directed straight to destinations. The same could be said of roles as varied as emergency first responders or traffic wardens.
Mobile AR could ultimately lead to permanent changes to the way we work. One of the biggest challenges with the enormous amount of data gathered by companies is how to apply the learnings from it in a tangible way.
Mobile AR is a way to turn past experience, inventory management, geographic knowledge and delivery times – to name just a few factors – into applicable, actionable knowledge at the sharp end of the workplace.
Crucially, it helps companies to make relevant knowledge and data within their organizations available to key staff, at exactly the moment they can get the most benefit from it.
As well as delivering information to employees, mobile AR can feed back into a company – for example, highlighting damaged or worn out items, or noting discrepancies in stock levels from what is expected. This can close the loop between different systems and activities, giving greater visibility not just to staff on the ground, but to those in central offices as well.
What are the disadvantages and challenges of mobile augmented reality?
Mobile AR essentially uses a device camera to connect the three-dimensional, physical world to a digital world. If you apply the same processes used to design apps used solely on screen to mobile AR development, you run the risk of it going wrong. Designing for mobile AR requires a different mindset and different approaches.
Accurate data capture is also one of the biggest challenges for mobile AR. All kinds of AR depend on accurately capturing information from the physical world. Unless the AR application knows accurately and reliably what it is “seeing”, overlaying digital elements onto it in real time is impossible.
This accuracy requirement is also much higher for enterprise applications. It doesn’t really matter if a Pokémon appears a few centimeters – or even meters – away from where it’s supposed to. But the situation is very different when closely-packed products in a warehouse or store need to be picked with an accuracy rate north of 95%.
This is why for many business applications, mobile AR works most effectively when combined with smart data capture.
How does Scandit’s mobile augmented reality work?
In Scandit’s MatrixScan Augmented Reality products, smart data capture gathers detailed, accurate information by capturing data intelligently from barcodes, text, IDs and objects. In return, mobile AR becomes one of the most effective ways in which the value of smart data capture is realized.
When working together the two technologies – mobile AR and smart data capture – create a virtuous circle that captures and communicates data in an accessible, intuitive way. It allows employees at every level of an organization to get the maximum value from it.
Mobile augmented reality market forecast
The global mobile augmented reality market is expected to be worth $29.5 billion by 2025. A wider adoption of mobile augmented reality, in conjunction with smart data capture, is set to be the next major step forward for many industries.
It promises to take them beyond the confines of a purely digital revolution. Instead, mobile AR combines the digital with the real world, in a way that most businesses have never seen before.