The State of Augmented Reality

September 27, 2019 – Silvain Toromanoff

When Sayduck was founded in 2012, Augmented Reality (AR) had finally become reachable by the masses thanks to the release of the iPhone 4S. Our vision back then, which has not fundamentally changed over the years, was built on the idea that AR could create unique value for users by merging the real and virtual worlds. More precisely, we thought that AR could massively help consumers make the right choice when discovering and buying products online – vision we think is more relevant today than ever before.

However, to get started with AR back then, a motivated user would first need to print out a marker – a symbol on a piece of paper which they would use to indicate where a single virtual product should be displayed. This served as an anchorpoint connecting the virtual object with the real world, but it was a massive hurdle as many users could not understand why they needed to print some strange pattern on a piece of paper in the first place.

Therefore, it is very exciting for us to see that technology conceptualised in the early 60’s has now matured and allows users to easily and seamlessly observe virtual objects in their real environment as if they were really just there. Augmented Reality has finally become mainstream reality – a true second nature experience.

“Augmented Reality has finally become mainstream reality – a true second nature experience.”

The most important breakthrough for AR came a couple years ago, when Apple released the first version of their AR framework (ARKit), which finally allowed very impressive marker-free AR, with an unprecedented sturdiness and scale estimation. For the first time, anyone with an iPhone could just make a single object – or even several – appear out of thin air, and it would stay put at a very precise scale even when the user walked around it and looked at it from every possible angle. The promised AR illusion was finally there for good.

This enabled the first generation of user-friendly AR apps, like the Sayduck app which lets you decorate your home with virtual furniture (or its close sibling the IKEA Place app).

However, there was still some friction, as users needed to download a dedicated app to enjoy the befefits of AR. Furthermore, some situations were still breaking the illusion of the virtual products; the most classic being when a person walked in front of a virtual object, the latter would still appear on top, breaking the illusion of perspective and interrupting the AR experience.

To answer the first challenge, Apple enabled the user to launch the AR experience directly from the browser, with one simple tap and no app installs. This is what we today call Web-AR (or AR Quick Look) and it has yet again made usage of AR technology a lot more accessible for the average user. However, that first version was also limited in its own right, allowing only products to be places on the floor, i.e. there was no direct support for objects like wall paintings or ceiling lamps.

And now, in September 2019, we have seen the official release of iOS 13; the latest iteration from Apple to yet again improve the AR illusion and bring a new version of Apple’s AR framework, which fixes many of the remaining blocks for a true AR world and potentially reveals some new exciting things to expect in the near future.

This latest release is now clever enough to detect if it should hide the virtual object or not when a person passes in front of the camera. It adds a slew of realism improvements for an even more immersive experience: virtual objects are now blurred when you are moving to match with the blurriness of your camera feed. They are also focused according to the camera focus point: no more sharp objects in an out-of-focus world. Noise is also added to match the camera images, for example in low-light conditions when the feed can become grainy.

On top of that, Web-AR also takes a leap forward: objects can now seamlessly be placed on walls and moved vertically. This opens the doors to all objects that couldn’t previously be used on Web-AR. Collections of objects are also now supported, which lets users place simultaneously a number of preselected items in their surroundings, all at once.

Last but not least, Web-AR will also support direct checkout from Apple Pay, finally closing the loop for the modern ecommerce experience (something in which we firmly believe at Sayduck): browse online, seamlessly and immediately try a virtual version of your product, confidently buy it right there and then.

To make things even more interesting, Google has also announced that it will start supporting their version of Web-AR called Scene Viewer in the coming months. Basically, a rough equivalent of last year’s version of Apple’s Web-AR, it is another great step to allowing anyone to take advantage of AR, as millions more will finally be given the opportunity to use AR seamlessly on Android. Both Apple and Google Web-AR are a core part of the services offered by Sayduck, considering how important seamless AR is to our vision of the future, and specifically of the future of ecommerce.

Although the AR experience is becoming increasingly refined every day, we at Sayduck believe that some crucial pieces are still missing. For one, Apple’s Web-AR does not support product variants, which makes it impossible for users to select the exact colour or material they want. Additionally, it only supports predefined options of products, so users are not able to match and pick for themselves according to their own tastes. There is also a lack of complex configurability. Finally, all our services are designed with minimal technical or 3D knowledge requirements, to let anyone leverage 3D and AR, from the Sales team to the Development team members.

These are the true pain point of many ecommerce experiences, and at Sayduck we are striving to solve them as best we can: whether it’s thanks to our 3D Viewer which supports both variants and advanced configurations, as well as a Web-AR mode for the selected option, or our Sayduck AR App (available for both iOS and Android), which lets users pick and choose their own products and variants, create collections and seamlessly buy them from there. It even comes fully integrated with popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify!

To sum it up, while we at Sayduck relish the fact that AR is making giant strides forward towards becoming the essential tool and mind-boggling experience it was dreamt to be, it is still clear to us that many pieces of the puzzle are still missing in the AR experiences that Apple and Google offer. Our services fill those missing gaps and enable true next-gen AR ecommerce for all our customers.

Start with Augmented Reality now!

Silvain Toromanoff
CTO, Sayduck