Augmented reality—a technology that superimposes virtual objects into screen views of the real world—is poised to explode into mobile experiences. Just as skeuomorphic design helped transition users from file folders and physical desktops to clicking and tapping digital simulacra, today’s AR designers will need to move people from the now familiar world of smartphones into the new and unfamiliar realm of mobile AR. At Daydream, we've been working with mobile AR for several years, first with Project Tango, and now with ARCore. We've worked on and tested the full spectrum of available mobile AR experiences, and witnessed firsthand the differences design can make in delivering not only a better user experience, but responsibly redefining the boundaries of this new medium.
We see it over and over in research studies: users are blown away by what they experience in smartphone AR apps—everything from immersive animations to lifelike 3D objects, and movement-based interactions. People finally feel like they’re holding the future in their hands. But that enthusiasm has a downside. New AR users are often so impressed with the idea of AR, that they’re unable to be critical of the experience and articulate what isn’t working. The wow-factor creates a perilous blind spot not only for users, but for AR designers too. It’s an obstacle to truly tracking and addressing some of the core challenges of the medium.
Research conducted by the Daydream team reveals that after the wow-factor wears off, the people using AR are sometimes left with high-friction experiences that are difficult to get into, even harder to stay in, and unstable or unusable in certain environments. AR is a medium full of potential, but compared to their non-AR counterparts, these apps have to overcome significant headwinds in order to build an engaged base. These obstacles include everything from the social awkwardness of having to hold your phone up in a “photo-taking” position, to the fear of an app draining your device’s battery. To help get AR past the biggest of these initial hurdles, here are three of the most common challenges designers need to consider when building a mobile AR product.