What Is WebAR?
WebAR (or web-based augmented reality) is a digital technology that allows you to easily share AR experiences right over the internet — no app required.
Simply send your users to a specific URL, and boom: They’re immediately interfacing with your latest digital experience. With this technology, you can bring a product label to life (even if it’s in print) or add a fully interactive product demo right on the back of your business card.
Mobile-based augmented reality — the type of AR that runs on your phone or tablet — has been exploding in popularity over the past couple of years. However, there’s always been a bit of a hiccup: Users first need to download an app in order to enjoy the experience. With WebAR, that is no longer the case; augmented reality features can now live directly in your web browser.
Why Consider WebAR?
Studies show that, by adding interactivity to content, your messaging can be up to 80 percent stickier in the user’s mind. That fact, combined with the ability to share AR content right from your own website, represents an enormous opportunity to squeeze extra juice out of your content strategy. There’s no longer the need to send users to a third-party site like Facebook, Snapchat or TikTok; you can launch WebAR experiences from any URL of your choosing.
As with static websites, there are a host of different tracking and analytics available when using WebAR. Not only can you track traditional metrics like engagements and time on page, you can also get more granular insights like how long a user interacted with a particular product or even — if a user “tried something on” through your experience — their clothing size for future reference.
A word of caution: Don’t be a data snoop! Data protection is incredibly important, and with advancements in technologies like eye tracking, facial recognition and image targeting, the power to collect personal information is only growing. In fact, these technologies are sometimes required to build virtual and augmented reality experiences. It is more important now than ever that we as digital content creators treat this power with respect.
How to Get Started With WebAR
Creating a home for your WebAR feature couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is direct your audience to a designated URL, and you’re off to the races. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the power of QR codes. Users simply open the camera app on their phone, point their lens at the QR and are prompted to tap into your new WebAR experience.
This technology allows you to easily embed interactive content anywhere. If you’d prefer to avoid using QR codes, you can also simply list or share your AR-enabled URL. At that point, the WebAR experience will launch automatically.
These experiences can also be engineered to include fallbacks for those audience members who might be browsing on older devices or on slow bandwidth connections. This is a great practice to follow to help ensure your entire audience has an optimized experience.
The development process of creating WebAR experiences can be broken into six simple steps:
- Planning and Creative: Always begin with a well-rounded plan that clearly states your target audience, campaign goals and creative vision. This will help inform your decisions later on.
- Platform Selection: There are two industry-leading platforms for building WebAR experiences; 8th Wall and Zappar. These are software packages that make developers’ lives easier by giving them access to the base technologies needed to build amazing WebAR experiences — think tools like surface tracking and image recognition. Each has their own benefits and drawbacks, but leveraging one of these two platforms will save you valuable time and money compared to developing your experiences from scratch.
- Asset Creation: Now it’s time to start building your 3D digital assets. A good WebAR experience is all about balancing your creative vision with available bandwidth speeds. Highly detailed models or super complex animations can cause web-based experiences to run slowly. For an optimal experience, focus on creating low-poly art assets and engaging yet simple animations.
- Assembly: With your plan in hand, platform selected and assets ready to go, you can begin developing your new WebAR experience. This work will be done through the platform you selected above. Like most digital development, this process is fairly technical and best handled by a developer or team of developers with experience building in the platform.
- Testing: Testing is an important step when building any digital experience — but especially with WebAR, as there are so many variables to consider. We recommend testing across all major mobile platforms and web browsers. If possible, we also suggest trying the experience on different network connections (Wi-Fi, 4G, 3G, etc.)
- Distribution: Both 8th Wall and Zappar offer hosting services and custom URL integrations if you prefer to keep things simple. You can also export the final experience and host it on your own servers Either way, you can now share your new WebAR experience by simply sharing the host URL via QR or any other means.
Where Is the Tech Today?
Companies like Google, Apple and Mozilla have been working for years behind the scenes to help make WebAR a reality. Serious research and development efforts on WebAR began in the 2000s but started to really ramp up in the last three to five years. These efforts have paid off, and this technology is now ready for prime time.
WebAR is supported by all major mobile phone manufacturers — such as Samsung, Apple, HTC, Xiaomi, Huawei and more — and across all major web browsers, including Safari, Chrome and Firefox. As consumers and creators, this means we now have access to more three billion sets of eyeballs when we publish a WebAR experience. It’s simply up to you to reach them.
Challenges to Implementing WebAR
When comparing WebAR to traditional mobile AR technology, there are a few limitations you’ll want to keep in mind, mainly around graphic fidelity and frame rate. When using WebAR, you are restricted by the speed of your user’s network connection. That means 3D models, complex animations and large scenes containing high levels of detail can lead to a subpar user experience.
You’ll want to make sure you follow all the best practices around compression and low-poly art creation when developing a WebAR experience. This will help keep your experience running smoothly across all devices and network connections. As mentioned above, a good developer should also program in a fallback solution for those users tapping in on slow connections or out-of-date phones.
When considering WebAR as part of your next sales, marketing or advertising campaign, do also keep in mind that this is just one tool in your toolbox as a digital content creator. Building a quality WebAR experience is more about just leveraging the tech to make something cool. Think about how you can use these experiences to tie together a larger campaign, tell a more compelling story or make something more shareable.
A Quick Note on 5G Technology
5G is promising mobile internet speeds five to 10 times faster than the fastest 4G connection. What does this mean for WebAR? Imagine watching an NFL football game play out in 3D right on your dining room table. Or perhaps having a phone call with your interior designer while being able to see new paint colors and furniture options appear in your living room in real time. 5G technology is going to be a game changer for WebAR and other interactive technologies like WebVR and 360-degree live streaming. The experiences we’re seeing today (as powerful as they are!) are just the beginning.
With WebAR technology, you now have the power to add interactivity to any product label, promotional poster or print ad. Brands like Adidas, Coors and the Spider-Man franchise are already leveraging the power of WebAR and seeing real results.
How could you use WebAR to bolster your next campaign?