While most AR businesses (including us) already are or in due time will offer WebAR solutions; I encourage you—do not snub augmented reality apps by default. I totally get the rush to embrace new tech, because—let’s be honest—WebAR beats app-based solutions in one punch when it comes to prompt user access. But there are more rounds to this fight, as its ‘new-to-market’ reality means that web-based AR has a limited number of content tricks up its sleeve. I take an honest look at the pros and cons of both WebAR and augmented reality apps to see if one is genuinely winning, as well as bring what’s really important to the forefront.
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To download or not to download—what matters here?
Let’s start with the fundamental selling point of WebAR, which is the fact that there is no need to download an app to immerse your customers in mobile augmented reality. You can run your campaign directing people to a hyperlink that instantaneously reveals the AR experience you’ve prepared.
App-based solutions, on the other hand, require users to download your application before they can experience the offer you’ve prepared. Your campaign may feature a download link, such as overlyapp.com/get, or direct customers to Google Play or App Store to search for your app’s title and subsequently download it.
At first glance, this seems like a significant step to skip. But turn to any digital marketer, and he will have a word or two to say about how easy it actually is to get valuable click-throughs to websites they’re marketing. In a nutshell, although WebAR may make things a bit easier for your customers, don’t let this give you an impression that somebody will also alleviate your promotional efforts.
Although no-download experiences offer quick access, you still have to consider how to market your augmented reality experience. You have to first catch your customers’ attention, then you have to communicate the reasons for engaging with your AR offer, be it to click a link or download an app.
The most crucial point to remember before you get blown away by the no-download offer—no one will take a shortcut to a place where they’re not going anyway. How you promote and communicate about your campaign is critical.
Should I care about the phone my customer is using?
Absolutely. But not equally for both solutions.
While it is awesome to skip the download step with WebAR, the users of this option should not skip on updating their phones, or even better—they should opt for owning the newer devices on the market. As the tech is still in its infancy, it currently mostly works in Safari and Chrome, and mobile browsers must be the later versions to ensure mobile camera access via the web is possible.
WebAR is also only compatible with mobiles that support AR Core/Kit, which is quite a limiting requirement. You can check out the AR core supported devices here. It may work just fine for your goals.
Of course, there are various AR apps out there, and some may also require new software and hardware to run smoothly. Marker-based augmented reality applications tend to work on both older and newer iOS and Android devices, and markerless content may also need AR Core/Kit support. The Overly app works on everything from Android 6.0 and iOS 12+ devices (starting with iPhone 6s), for example.
App-less means space-less AR
Another positive of no-download AR is no need for users to give up storage on their devices. Every AR app will take up space. It will take up more if all assets are downloaded along with the app, and less if the AR experiences are retrieved from the cloud (more on how different AR apps work here). However, even if the content is hosted in the cloud, the app itself will require some space depending on its features.
I want to hypothesize, however, that this is more of an issue of like five to ten years ago rather than that of what’s important today. With increasingly popular and automated cloud-storage capabilities and phones coming with 64GB to 128GB of internal storage, I believe an average cell phone user can no longer be scared away by space-occupying apps on their devices. To give you some context, our marker-based Overly app occupies a tiny amount of space (70MB on Android phones and 125MB on iPhones). But there is a catch—the download must be worth their time, which takes me to the next point—medium and the message.
Medium dictates smooth experiences
Leveraging new technologies to boost your bottom line is a brilliant move. However, it is essential to remember that ‘NEW’ frequently means developing; it’s certainly the case with augmented reality. And if we can indeed say that mobile AR apps are still making strides, then their web-based cousin is about a decade behind. What does it mean?
As a newer technology, WebAR’s technological capacity means it cannot yet offer the same content opportunities as sophisticated apps, and you cannot expect to provide equally smooth experiences through both mediums.
One of the drawbacks of this space-less, no-download AR, is the lack of content quality, which for specific campaigns is a big deal. Apps have better image recognition, plane recognition and will also recognize 3D objects as markers. WebAR responds to 2D, flat surface markers only and doesn’t carry this out as seamlessly as the former.
Web-based AR is more sensitive to uneven lighting and user’s movements, basically the content twitches if it is retrieved. Often issues occur with overall image recognition meaning that markers are not recognized at all. Apps are much more stable and reliable. However, if the markers are not high-quality, you could experience problems with apps as well. Tips on creating markers for either AR medium here.
The role of the quality could be up for a discussion because high-res 3D animation will not add any value to your audience in WebAR if it is not relevant. A simple WebAR video, on the other hand, that hits all the right spots, may generate great success. You have to decide if your campaign needs to consider polygons and 3D objects.
There is also offline use. This may seem quite a strange idea, but offline AR is a go-to solution for a lot of organizations, such as museums or publishers that keep the same markers and content for the full lifecycle of an item, e.g. a book or an exhibition. In such scenarios, it is better to use AR apps that host content on mobile devices and can be used offline once the app is downloaded.
WebAR can only be used when a user has an internet connection, so the content isn’t necessarily as accessible as that of apps. Imagine if someone who read an AR-enabled book, could only do so when WiFi or mobile data is available, but so many of us enjoy reading in nature and during flights, for example.
Content matters for both mediums
Whichever medium you choose, you have to look at what it is that you want to present to your audience and how it may be revealed most engagingly.
While WebAR is the new kid on the block, it does offer ease of use and may entice more clicks to your campaign as more people get modern devices. App-based solutions may achieve fewer downloads, but give you more flexibility in terms of content, let you zoom in on detail and two-way conversations, enticing people to return with relevant push notifications, for example. The precise detail and the richness of content that an AR app can host will provide a reason for your potential and existing clients to download your solution.
WebAR, on the other hand, wins when it comes to quick competitions or social campaigns where the experience plays more of a gimmicky role (face filters, etc.) and high quality is not expected. A typical case for this would be a customer visiting a site, experiencing the AR offer, maybe sharing the result on social media and then leaving the site. It may generate traction for your brand, you may collect data this way, but it is a one-off visit by each unique user and provides no reason to return to the site.
Both solutions can generate leads and be an integral part of your sales funnel. You may also consider implementing both WebAR and app-based solutions to reap the most benefits for your business.
Technology, content and promotion. What seals the deal then?
Although this blog aims to explore whether WebAR or app-based solutions are better, I want you to lead your personal decision with the above question. There is a huge part of me that believes the content to be the crux of all customer communication, no matter what the medium is, even if it means dropping AR altogether.
BUT, when it comes to corporate/business marketing, do not expect customers to be on a lookout for hidden content gems and eagerly looking to click on promotional links just because of AR. While still a novelty for some, augmented reality is no longer the enticing factor in itself. The one thing that has to tower over your tech choice is promotion.
Your campaign will only work if people take out their devices and decide to tune in to the conversation you are trying to have. In the end, it doesn’t matter which technology you use; it is all about the way you communicate your experience.
My advice would be to start with the end in mind and let the tech decisions take care of themselves. If you have set your mind on an AR campaign, establish clear goals and KPIs. Consider what you want to give to your audience what content will provide your audience most value and provide you with the expected ROI.
Next, decide whether the content requirements fit best within WebAR or app-based AR capabilities. Whichever solution you go for, don’t slack on promotion. Believe me—both clicks and downloads take equal marketing effort and require users to take action to engage with your business. While the AR content you offer will motivate users to continue engaging with your brand, how you promote your AR offer will get people to start that conversation with your business in the first place.
Below is a summary table to review all that we’ve gone through and help you check off what you need.
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