How to build AR apps for the enterprise and beyond

Augmented reality (AR) is reinventing the way we communicate with and digest information. Its use is only predicted to grow, with research estimating that the market will increase from $4 billion in 2016 to $161 billion by 2020. Most commonly we see it associated with the gaming world. Apps such as Pokémon Go are taking the world by storm. However, AR is also making big strides in enterprise as well.

The technology has a host of potential uses for business and is already showing value in the manufacturing and retail/e-commerce sectors in particular. For employees, AR can aid productivity and efficiency as well as speed up training and on-boarding. NASA, for example, is using AR to help its workforce build spacecrafts faster. Traditionally, aerospace engineers have relied on instruction manuals to train them, however, NASA has now introduced the Microsoft HoloLens AR headset to provide live instructions. It layers information about model parts and instructions over the object in front of the worker, detailing what the finished product should look like.

For customers, AR can bring a product to life, helping visualise it in a real-life setting and ultimately encourage sales. As a creative platform, this approach made sense for Shutterstock as a business so we developed our very own AR app to enable our customers to interact with our collection by previewing images in their room before licensing them. In addition, we’ve also built a partnership with Magic Leap that provides developers access to our images and videos to help bring their imagination to life through the Magic Leap One, Creator Edition.

Companies who have adopted AR technology are leading the way for the many more that will follow. However, some are still confused about the how’s and why’s of adoption. Just because it works for one, it does not mean every enterprise should have AR apps. But for those who would benefit from an AR approach, the process isn’t as hard as you may initially think. Here are a few steps to help you get started.

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Step 1: Visualisation

What is the problem, what are you trying to solve? Identifying this is crucial for the development of AR enterprise apps. Then consider if AR could offer a potential solution. Investigate all your internal and external processes and identify where the challenges lie.

Next, think about how AR could help improve a process and how the end-user could interact with AR. One cause for concern might be the disorientation that these experiences could create and therefore the use of it has been questioned in some workplaces. Although this concern is mostly associated with VR (completely obstructed view) you still need to consider the person that is using the technology and where. Its critical to understand how your AR app will be used and for how long – does a device need to be hands-free, will the user need to wear goggles, will it be safe?

Once you have narrowed down your focus area and what you are trying to achieve, visualising the app and the content you need to use will be easier.

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Step 2: Getting buy-in

Selling the idea to key stakeholders can be the biggest challenge of the whole AR implementation process. Many see AR as an entertainment tool rather than a business one. It can be a hard convincing an organisation to change its current processes if they do not see the business value. Resistance to new technology is common; you must have a tangible “why” to present to your business.

The key to success is knowing who your stakeholders are. We were lucky that our CEO and founder, Jon Oringer, welcomes and encourages innovation. He fully embraced the idea of introducing AR to our business, but not all stakeholders are quite as open to transformation.

Not everyone will have basic background knowledge of the technology, so make the AR concept you are presenting digestible and visual – what you are selling is a visual concept, after all, so let it tell the story. I like to provide examples that stakeholders might not know about, such as the Pepsi bus stop or Microsoft’s partnership with BAE (see both videos below). Examples help stir the imagination of your stakeholder. Then, if possible, aim for the output of an AR implementation to be measurable. This will help develop the technology down the line and prove the benefits of the adoption to stakeholders.

Data and proof points will also help you get buy-in and build trust. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of data out there, especially for business applications, so don’t be afraid to get it yourself.

When developing our app, I reached out to our customers to gain qualitative research and understand where AR made sense for them. With these findings we were able to present a logical case to our stakeholders, giving them the confidence for us to take a leap of faith.

Step 3: Building the app

Building AR apps is the easy part, believe it or not.

A good place to start is looking at examples that already exist. What makes them engaging and user-friendly? It’s these attributes that drive adoption. At the same time, there aren’t a plethora of case studies out there, so you’ve got to be gutsy. Being an early adopter means experimenting and trying new methods – in the end, you will reap the rewards.

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There are many AR software development kits (SDKs) available to build your app. Choosing the right SDK depends entirely on your project criteria, focus, and budget! It is the core technology software that will power the development and creation of your app; research which one will fit best with your requirements.

When building our AR app, we used Apple’s ARKit which launched in 2017. This SDK blends 3D digital objects and information with the physical environment, taking a mobile app beyond the screen. The ARKit allowed us to take the readymade code and incorporate our designs around it.

It’s as simple as that.

With these three tips in mind, you too can think about how AR can apply to your business in new ways. It is widely accepted that AR is going to be a part of our lives more and more over the years and innovative thinking now can set your company apart in years to come.

Written by Erin Essex, product design manager and senior product designer at Shutterstock

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