Augmented Reality is becoming more and more popular with developers and smartphone users but it still hasn’t taken its place among omnipresent technologies. To experience AR, users have to install a dedicated application but often they delete it after a few uses or don’t even bother to download it at all. WebAR is set to become the solution for users’ reluctance to experience it via apps, and there’s some pretty good evidence that it’ll actually succeed.

What is WebAR?

WebAR is an Augmented Reality experience that is accessed via a web browser instead of an app. It provides this web-based AR experience by using technologies like WebGL, WebRTC, WebVR and APIs. In simple words, you just need a phone to access it.

WebAR enables smartphone users to discover AR technology in the easiest way— via the web— without the burden of installation. It simply breaks barriers and creates interactive 3D models one can access through QR-code or a link. For now, WebAR offers limited functionality compared to an app-based AR, but it already includes simple animations, video, and a certain degree of interactivity. Also, WebAR supports image target detection.

How Web AR Works

Technology Behind WebAR

WebAR is a part of the immersive web and, although it doesn’t need an app, it still has some technical requirements. First of all, your smartphone must have sensors like gyroscope accelerometer and RGB camera – things that most modern smartphones are equipped with – to run WebAR pages. Moreover, your browser should support WebXR, an API that allows users to view AR/VR content without installing extra plugins or software, and have AR Core installed (for Android devices).

For the iOS devices users, Apple developed AR Quick Look, an extension that enables users to use ARKit on the web. This grants quick and easy access to AR via the web – AR Quick Look uses models in USDZ format. Then, after an AR image is displayed on the screen, the AR experience is accessed within just one tap. It works in the Safari browser and built-in applications like mail, notes, and messages and allows you to see high-quality 3D objects.

USDZ format was created by Apple together with Pixar Animation Studio and allowed developers to create 3D models for AR. It’s an extension from USD format that combines several objects, like images and text, and render them into one. USDZ itself is unencrypted zip archive and can be created through Apple’s Python-based tools. It includes also a converter to transform other files formats like .fbx, .abc, .gltf, .obj into USDZ.

There are also many other tools and frameworks that help developers in expanding the immersive web with WebAR. For example, AR.js is an open-source library for Augmented Reality on the Web for improved WebAR performance on smartphones that includes marker-based technology (simplified QR-codes) and location-based AR. It can easily perform a 60FPS and is very simple to build WebAR experience with. All in all, for modern browsers to recognize and show 3D content beyond just pixels, “3D content must be composable, interoperable and standardizable” to move this technology forward.

WebAR App Examples

How Does WebAR Work?

WebAR as AR, in general, can truly give amazing experience for its users but there are a lot of aspects that should be thought through during its development. To be functional and user-friendly WebAR should work in the following way.

Firstly, it should be defined where a device is in the 3D space – its position and orientation. This step is needed to sync the 3D image on top of the real world. This process can sometimes be referred to as six degrees of freedom which means the ability to track three axes of position and three axes of orientation. Secondly, the camera stream, its field of view and perspective of the camera need to be exposed. This feature is also needed for the synchronization of the virtual and real world. Thirdly, to run AR in the Web version without flaws, the feature of scene understanding should be included, meaning the ability of a device to find the surface to put the 3D object on and to estimate the light in the environment.

The app-based AR, like the one of Facebook and Snapchat, use a cloud-based CMS that gives users an AR experience based on some kind of trigger, meaning link, marker or even user’s face. The trigger makes a request to the backend system to send the assets and code to launch the AR experience. There is a certain limit to the AR file size (4mb) to download quickly and work properly. WebAR is also activated by triggers (QR-codes or links) and however it uses web optimizations to download content, its size is still limited. Moreover, it’s better if an image of a QR-code is flat, put on non-reflective material and has a specific size. But if a mobile device’s computer vision AI can detect certain feature points of an image, the code will eventually work.

How WebAR Features are Limited for Now?

Despite giving more possibilities for smartphone users, WebAR has quite limited features; AR performance is just better on apps. The memory limitation on the web page that displays an AR image is one of the obstacles for better WebAR performance as it has a direct effect on the quality of animations.

More to that, the functionality of WebAR is also more limited compared to the app-based AR. For example, placing objects on the wall or doing real-world measurements will be problematic. Compared to the app-based AR development process, during the creation of WebAR experience developers can’t access all the abilities and functionality of the devices they’re building it for. So, they can only work with the basic features.

The Internet speed is another moment that can impede better WebAR functionality: it has to be of the highest speed and work without interruptions as WebAR requires a constant connection to the internet. However, apparently with the coming of 5G, this issue won’t be relevant anymore.

If you want to experience advanced WebAR features you can try it out on Chrome Canary, an experimental version of Chrome for developers, which allows you to have a glance of the future of new technologies. For example, you can test the Chacmool demo – educational AR experience to help users discover ancient Chacmool sculptures.

WebAR Application

Market Implications of WebAR

The conventional app-based AR is already widely used and available for everybody. Apps like Snapchat or Instagram have “masks” that have become a real trend. Ikea and LEGO have also successfully implemented this technology. But there’s one thing that all these AR apps lack – autonomy. Therefore, WebAR has all chances to become as popular as app-based one, or even substitute it. Let’s take a look at possible WebAR implementations in business, marketing or everyday life.

The first and maybe the most exciting application of WebAR can be for search queries. Google has already announced it’s going to bring AR to web searches. For example, when you’re looking up info about sharks, you can put an animated version of the animal on top of a real background; or you can try out a pair of shoes to see how they’ll look like in reality. The latter feature opens a whole new range of possibilities for online shopping as customers would be more confident with their purchase if they could try it out first by interacting with the product’s 3D model.

Industries where WebAR can be used:

  • E-commerce and Advertising. WebAR can take e-commerce experiences to another level. In the case of marketing, it offers a new platform for advertising campaigns as people can just scan a QR-code or follow a link and get more engaging and interactive advertisements they will actually enjoy.
  • Education. Application of WebAR in the educational process can be a great way to engage students in classrooms and make the whole education process more interactive and exciting. Also, it can help students navigate through campus.
  • Entertainment. The use of WebAR for entertainment is maybe the most obvious one as interacting with it is truly fun by itself. It can be used for gaming or even for movie promotion.Sony Pictures actually used WebAR to promote Jumanji and they offered a truly engaging experience powered by voice interaction to grant an exciting 3D adventure.
  • Business. One of the most interesting implementations of WebAR is 3D AR business cards. When you scan aQR-code, an interactive card appears on your phone screen. From there you can navigate through the person’s social media, email, etc. Your WebAR business card will also allow you to track the analytics: how many people used the QR code.

Market Implications of WebAR

Future of WebAR

WebAR will soon become mainstream and it will likely be used the most by marketers. The best thing about WebAR is that it can create an extremely easy way to access information. The possibility to integrate information anywhere in the environment can create the space where data is available without search, within one QR-code scan or one tap. Finding your way will become simple with interactive maps that superimpose visual directions over the real background; or, when you’re at a bus station, you’ll be able to scan the empty road with your phone to see whether the bus is coming as scheduled.

According to Jordan Santell, Google’s ex-UX Engineer, the most likely development to occur soon is a better adaptation of AR to the Web format, meaning better scene understanding, and creation of the cloud space for the shared WebAR experience. The further development of the WebAR can also be accelerated by the widespread social acceptance of the headsets that can give the whole other level of AR experience. This means instant access to the information when the contextually relevant content is appearing as the person’s real background is changing.

However, this scenario is not likely in the real future as Google’s headsets for augmented reality didn’t become popular and there are many issues they entail, like private privacy issues, data security and overconsumption. Therefore, the appropriate legislation has to be adopted and the world has to learn how to use this technology wisely to make it beneficial for everyone.

To Sum Up

Taking AR to the web may be the best option to grant this technology a future. By freeing smartphone users from having to install numerous apps, WebAR can make Augmented Reality far more accessible for them and more beneficial for business. Digitization of products with WebAR brings a new era to the relationship with a customer and enriches brands’ business strategy considerably. Maybe, the widespread use of WebAR for everyday life with the interaction through specialized headsets is still in the distant future, but its active application for business purposes is happening right now.

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