17 september. A historic day :)
Because this monday will be remembered as the day that WebAR became available worldwide. With the public release of iOS12 it is now very easy to see 3D objects in your browser through your camera.
iOS 12 already installed? Click on the above image in Safari and the AR object will load.
It's time to research and to look at various other solutions that can be found in the market for WebAR. What are they, and what are the advantages and disadvantages?
Ok, WebAR. Sounds cool.
But what is it?
WebAR is like the name says, Augmented Reality but in a web browser. So you can use Augmented Reality via your Smartphone in your browser. The advantage of this is that there is no need to download an app as opposed to 'traditional' Augmented Reality.
It starts with the WebXR API standards
To make WebAR possible, the World Wide Web Consortium started a group called Immersive Web at W3C. This group has, among other things, devised the WebXR API standards that enables browsers to show WebAR.
The intention is that in the future WebXR API will be easily available in all browsers. The WebXR API gives the browser access to various functions such as GPS, gyroscope and camera. Through the API, the browser can give input and interpret output.
For Android : coming soon
From Chrome version 70 (Chrome Canary, available soon) it is also possible to use AR on the web. Because it implements the WebXR API.
The big advantage is the ability to use ARCore on the web and make AR markerless. This means that the user does not have to print and lay down markers to use AR technology.
The software kit from Google that makes it possible to build augmented reality experiences for Android. Currently ARCore is not yet pre-installed on devices, which means that a user has to install this kit himself via the Google Play Store. In the future versions of Android this will very likely come pre-installed.
The software kit follows the position of the smartphone as it moves and in addition builds up an image of the environment. It is currently used to create AR apps for all platforms, with and without Unity or Unreal Engine.
As soon as WebXR is available in chrome as a standard, AR can easily be used by customers without having to install anything extra.
On iOS : now available
Since iOS 12 it is possible for developers to use AR directly in the browser. An example of this is AR Quick Look. This allows users to view products directly in AR. It also uses the WebXR API.
The software kit from Apple that makes it possible to build augmented reality experiences for iOS. Comparable with ARCore but since iOS 11 delivered standard on devices.
The software kit follows (just like ARCore) the position of your smartphone as it moves and in addition builds up a picture of the surroundings.
A platform independent alternative
AR.js is a library that makes WebAR platform independent. It uses a number of libraries that are described below. The advantage of AR.js is that it is very fast. It even gets 60fps on older phones when rendering 3D objects.
Another advantage is the use of AR.js is that it is not based on the WebXR API. It uses the older and more common WebRTC and WebGL APIs. These APIs make it possible to stream audio and video plus interactive 3D and 2D objects. These have both been released in 2011 and are therefore better supported.
The big disadvantage is that it is 'marker based' AR. This means that a 'marker' must be printed out and placed. The objects can only be placed on this recognizable 'marker'. It can be detrimental to customer-friendliness if markers have to be deposited before the measurement can be done.
The introduction of the WebXR API makes it increasingly possible to make WebAR applications. Many of the above frameworks are still experimental but will be released for all users in the near future. AR applications with markers work best at the moment, but markerless AR is getting better supported. On iOS 12, AR is already integrated in the operating system, whereas with Android you still have to install a few things before you can get started.
The expectation is that this will change in the near future. There are at least enough possibilities to experiment with.