By Peter Oberdorfer, President, Tactic
It’s easy to forget that augmented reality (especially branded AR) has traveled a long path to get to where it is today. Early experiences were simple and static, necessitating the right combination of various hardware and software for the user to try it out – a cool oddity hampered by the difficulty of use. Since then, AR experiences have become more frictionless, seamlessly integrated within the real world and fun. Now, everything from bottles to boxes to in-store stands can act as a canvas for evergreen stories and immersive, live-action and animated entertainment. AR apps have become the default way to serve brand storytelling to users on a more consistent basis, earning acclaim and customer loyalty. All the while, the medium of AR remained everchanging under our feet. So, it’s no surprise that the next evolution is finally here, looking to take us away from AR apps completely and into WebAR – a web-based, cross-platform solution that can be easily run on browsers.
Simply put, WebAR is just easier for the user which means more people can have access. Without the need to download an app, there is a lower barrier of entry. The immediacy of simply clicking on a link or scanning a QR code wherever you are to get to a media-rich, real-time, or gamified AR experience on the web, as compared to going to the app store and downloading it as an app, is just too enticing. Even while it’s relatively new, it’s a no-brainer for brands. In fact, we’ve already seen its potential with AR projects like 19 Crimes’ Snoop Cali Red and experiences for Almond Breeze. Just think: games and real-time interactive experiences, whether AR or just interactive, can now easily be spread via social feeds, texts or DMs, company website portals and via QR codes on packaging and OOH signage. This broadens the potential audience exponentially.
Of course, there’s always a tradeoff. WebAR has some limits to the size of the AR experience and the complexity as compared to native AR apps. After all, these WebAR experiences must be served over a web connection, not prepackaged in an app. However, as phones get more and more overpowered and 5G connections become more commonplace, people can tap into the native AR capabilities that come with their devices. Apple, Google/Android and social platforms are all investing in native AR capabilities.
Make no mistake. With increased access comes the rapidly approaching responsibility for brands to start figuring out how to serve these AR audiences. To their credit, various tech companies are already in preparation for what they see as an AR boom. There are major portions of the various mobile and tech companies exclusively concerned with the advancement of AR/XR. Fully 1/5th of Facebook’s employees are in this space. Apple has an AR/XR device upcoming that they claim will “replace the iPhone” at some point in the next decade. Snap has based its entire platform on AR, in many respects. This stuff isn’t a gimmick, it’s a medium, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds each year. The only question for brands is: what is your camera strategy? It’s a question that only a few years ago would have seemed ridiculous. But now, with further advancements in WebAR, it could grow alongside social and mobile, and essentially replace them.
No, this won’t happen overnight and there will be some trial and error (as there always has been). Even now, brands are weathering the transition from existing app platforms by maintaining both app and web-based AR, using one to enhance the other. We’ve successfully built this functionality out for a host of brands and have created dual WebAR and native-app AR activations for many of our clients.
But as the AR barrier to entry for the users and creators continues to lower, with toolsets from the various technology gatekeepers out there getting more prevalent, we’re bound to see a shift to something beyond the app. AR is a technology with the potential to push the boundaries of storytelling and brand interaction, resulting in new frontiers to explore. With mainstream use of location-based gamification, NFTs, and social AR right around the corner, embracing WebAR may be the first step to entering a broader world of creative and strategic possibilities.
Peter Oberdorfer is the President of Tactic, an immersive creative and production studio situated at the convergence of design and technology. Its team of engineers and designers specialize in experiences and products centered around new digital formats: virtual reality, augmented reality, gesture tech, mobile apps, and real-time 3D experiences made with game engines.