Why webAR is the key to augmented reality becoming the next mass medium

Jens Bäkvall, Project Manager @ Hololink


Augmented Reality (AR) is currently in a large-scale process of becoming the next mass medium and this process is largely being led by webAR.

For AR to truly be a mass medium, it needs to be accessible to anyone and to make this possible there is a need for a universal standard for the technology. At Hololink we believe that webAR is this universal standard, and we are not alone as more and more AR agencies are moving away from app-based campaigns in favour of AR served directly in the browser available on any device connected to the internet.

Let’s dive into how and why this is happening

A Quick 101 on Augmented Reality Experiences

AR experiences are digital overlays on the real world, hence the term augmented reality, as the experiences add additional engagement, fun, value, learning and more to a real world setting. These overlays can contain 3D models, animations, videos, text and images and can both be short and fun one-off experiences or more complex interactive and engaging storytelling tools.

So AR can encompass all other media types, letting them work together to make a stronger and more engaging tool for communicating and learning.

This makes AR one of the most powerful media types ever created and thus paves the way for it being the next mass medium.

The Value of AR

And just a quick primer on the value of AR.

While we have had advertising and campaigns for many decades and digital advertising for the past 20-30 odd years, AR campaigns are a relatively new thing with only a few years behind it. So is it better than pure visual campaigns through images or video? The short answer is yes.

Many studies have shown that AR gives us something that traditional visual media does not, the main things being increased engagement and added focus as mentioned by Tuhin Bhatt on Intelivita.

In short, diving into a multi-dimensional AR with 3D models that you can explore from all angles, video, thrilling sound effects and interactivity that lets you choose how your experience unfurls makes for an experience that consumers stick with for longer, remember for longer and have stronger feelings for than most traditional multimedia. Like for example the powerful campaign Jumanji - The Next Level by TriggerXR.


Jumanji - The Next Level WebAr Experience

On top of this we have some of the AR experiences that we have come to expect from augmented reality, such as virtually adding furniture to our homes or trying on virtual glasses, shoes or even clothes before deciding whether to purchase them.

And we can do even more with AR, such as creating treasure hunts for consumers to follow and interactive, multi-modal games to engage them and bring them into an experience, encompassing everything from going into a store to buy something or exploring a museum, virtual or real.

Why WebAR is the key to Augmented Reality becoming the next mass medium

There are some key features to webAR that make it the stepping stone that bridges the gap between AR being an exciting gimmick to it becoming a true mass medium. But first let’s take a quick look at why most AR apps are likely to fade away in the not too distant future.

Why AR apps Simply aren’t Feasible in the Long Run

Here are the top reasons why AR apps are slowly becoming yesterday’s technology.

Downloading and Installing Steals Valuable Time & Attention

Up until fairly recently, accessing AR content had to be done through an app created specifically for a single platform or even for a single experience. An example is the Jack Daniel’s AR experience by Tactic Studio.

Jack Daniels AR experience

It is an aesthetic and interactive experience, but now that AR experiences are becoming increasingly popular it simply isn’t feasible for users to download an app each time they want to experience an AR campaign as they may want to try out several campaigns every day. We can do the maths and imagine that we want a consumer to access an AR campaign once a day, which makes 365 specific AR downloads every year.

According to buildfire the average mobile phone user has 80 apps installed and uses 30 of these on a monthly basis.

The Apps We Use

So accessing a new AR app every day would need to double the number of apps used daily and ask users to install almost 300 extra apps every year, only to delete them after a few minutes of use. 

Additionally, downloading an app and getting started can take several minutes and this is often beyond the patience of most users, causing needless friction.

Developing an App is Expensive

In addition to the above, developing a dedicated AR app is expensive. On top of the costs for designing and developing the AR campaign itself including assets and all other aspects of the actual content, it then has to be developed and deployed as a native app for both Android and iOS and be distributed through either Apple or Google’s stores.

With WebAR the entire development and deployment process is done away with, saving both money and time for the producers.

Why WebAr is the Solution

In contrast to the whole app process, webAr campaigns are accessed through a link or by scanning a QR code. This does away with the use of an app and delivers the AR content within seconds of the user being made aware of the campaign. This leads to more users actually engaging with the content and the campaign being successful. All for the effort and cost of adding a QR code to whatever printed or digital matter your campaign is distributed through.

Runs on most devices

Another important aspect is that with webAR, your experience is accessible on any mobile device that is connected to the internet with one of the top browsers, including Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Edge.

But Don’t my Users’ Devices need to Support ARCore or ARKit to run WebAR?

While this was true just 18-24 months ago, more and more WebAR solutions are working to free themselves from directly using ARCore or ARKit. Some do this by targeting only Android devices which support ARCore through WebXR, while others develop tracking software of their own. This is a daunting task, but among the top companies that have achieved this are Hololink, Zappar and 8th Wall. These three can be ranked by how stable their tracking is and how versatile their feature set is, with 8th Wall in the lead, tightly followed by Hololink and Zappar lagging slightly behind.

Reaches billions of users instantly

Also, with apps needing to run on devices that support a current version of ARKit or ARCore, which limits the number of users that can be reached, the fact that WebAR is accessible in any browser opens WebAR campaigns up to over 3 billion users worldwide.

What are the limits of WebAR?

Since WebAR is not specifically made for and does not have access to all of the same hardware as native ARCore or ARKit, there are some limitations on how complex a single scene in an AR experience can be. Additionally webAR experiences are served in the same way as websites making very large and heavy content lead to longer and slower loading.

So if you are looking to create a very large and complex stand-alone AR experience, a dedicated AR app is probably the way to go.

Luckily faster and more powerful smartphones as well as faster networks have diminished these hurdles, making it possible to serve advanced AR experiences through WebAR. So in the near future, even the heavier AR experiences could be completely web-based and run on all or most standard phones, once 5G becomes ubiquitous.

Is WebAR difficult to create and do I need Specialised developers?

One thing that worries some content creators is the fact that webAR has to be created using special web-based frameworks or SDK’s, relying on developers who know how to use these. But luckily several companies have launched web-based WYSIWYG editors that enable content creators to create engaging and interactive AR through simple drag and drop without having to code.

Among these editors is Hololink, which has gained critical acclaim from more and more users, thanks to the intuitive interface, advanced interaction features and the world class image tracking.

Conclusion: WebAR is making Augmented Reality accessible to the masses

In conclusion, webAR is not only here to stay, but is rapidly becoming a mass medium onto its own, making AR marketing and communication affordable and easy to create and distribute to a market spanning over half of the world’s inhabitants. So maybe your next campaign should utilise the power of augmented reality through webAR!