Here at RE’FLEKT, we strive to constantly push the boundaries of what’s possible with augmented reality (AR). Our goal is to propel the sector forward and to share our innovations with others. For instance, by helping organizations create their own AR applications with our authoring platform, REFLEKT ONE.
We’re all passionate about AR, but few more so than our head of R&D, Jan Heitger. We sat down with Jan to talk about the AR authoring trends emerging (or growing further) in 2022 and beyond. Let’s hear his take.
5 upcoming AR authoring trends
It’s an exciting time for AR. Over the past decade or so, it has turned from being a “pie in the sky” idea to becoming reality—well, augmented reality.
The tide is turning as AR and extended reality (XR) begin to gain momentum. If the 5 trends outlined below have the impact that we think they will have, AR and XR will soon have every opportunity to become a daily part of all our lives.
1. The metaverse and a content-rich interconnected reality
By now, you’ve probably seen Meta’s keynote—and how they conceptualize their version of the metaverse. Niantic and Microsoft have also both established plans for their own distinct iterations, but we are still a fair way away from the metaverse actually fulfilling its ultimate potential.
To achieve these visions, there needs to be a dramatic increase in the quantity and quality of XR content. Content creation has historically been a challenge in augmented reality due to a number of reasons: limitations in authoring (due to a lack of resources to utilize CAD data), challenges creating net-new AR content without 3D files, or bad user experiences (UX) that make content creation laborious.
AR content must therefore become significantly easier and faster to create. To tackle these AR authoring challenges, market leaders are currently working on increasing the emphasis on use-case-driven design, creating lightweight tools, experimenting with hybrid software models, and improving their tools’ UX.
2. The emergence of simplified authoring approaches
As mentioned above, the AR industry has come to a realization: creating AR content is currently too difficult to truly achieve the technology's potential. Unfortunately, this is a tricky issue to solve. As things stand, creating AR content primarily depends on injecting 3D images into AR reality experiences, which is often a laborious task. That’s why we’re going to see an increased emphasis on simplified authoring approaches throughout 2022.
Generally speaking, there are two main types of tools that can be used to create AR content: CAD-inspired tools (like Vuforia Studio or REFLEKT ONE) and lightweight, simple authoring tools. CAD-inspired tools are strong in the market as they have a lot of data to work from and boast a huge library of robust features over the newer lightweight tools. Think photoshop for Augmented Reality. One issue with the CAD-inspired tools is when there are no pre-existing CAD files for specialists to use, they have to create the 3D images from scratch to use within AR scenarios. This lengthens the time needed to generate value, so market leaders are looking at how they can reduce this constraint for these CAD-inspired tools and additionally looking at the problem from a different angle.
Market leaders are increasingly interested in exploring more lightweight, simple-to-use products. For example, Vuforia Expert Capture uses photo and video capture to quickly create annotative, step-by-step AR content, or Jigspace, which is CAD-inspired but designed to be simple, very easy to use, but less feature-rich compared to ONE or Studio. Think Figma vs. Photoshop.
3. How hybrid solutions might be able to bridge the gap
It’s perhaps overly simplistic to say that AR content creation boils down to CAD-inspired tools versus lightweight options, or "the old vs the new." There are in fact tools already on the market that adopt a hybrid approach, blending the CAD-inspired workflows of the more established, robust tools with the more lightweight approach which includes specific use-case-driven solutions, like Jigspace mentioned above or Vuforia Instruct.
REFLEKT ONE, for example, is a professional, use-case-focused enterprise software for industrial workflows—yet it’s a feature-rich, evolving, CAD-inspired platform. We [RE’FLEKT] were one of the first to offer this type of specialized, use-case-focused tool, a trend that we’ve since seen adopted progressively by other market leaders.
4. The first steps towards making AR content in AR
We’re beginning to see the first proofs of concept for authoring content in augmented reality environments emerge, such as Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Guides. It is best described as a simple card-based presentation tool that enables you to manipulate cards and text in Augmented Reality using hardware like the Hololens. While far off from achieving the same efficacy in industrial applications like ONE or Studio, it’s encouraging to see this type of innovative technology emerge.
Or consider Vuforia Instruct, another prominent (and particularly interesting) example of these new hybrid AR solutions, as mentioned above. It applies CAD data to AR visualizations and walks users through simple yes/no steps for training, maintenance, and repair with simple AR annotations tied directly to the CAD file. It enables users to directly create content on 3D images within AR.
5. Improvements to the user experience (UX)
Throughout 2022 (and beyond), we will see a dramatic increase in hardware and AR authoring tools’ focus on user experience. The market is already demanding hardware that has a better ergonomic fit and battery life. For example, like Ray-Ban Stories, released by Ray-Ban and Meta. While these aren’t AR glasses and are not and will never be used for AR authoring, they do demonstrate the type of ergonomics that we would like to see in other tools (such as Microsoft Hololens).
Some tools have already made steps to improve their cumbersome design. Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 has dramatically reduced its size compared to the Hololens 2, though it has sacrificed a significant amount of the functionality offered by Microsoft.
Another trend is streamlining the UI of AR authoring software tools. Enterprise-class software doesn't need to be the beasts of the past where functionality beats out ease of use, and we expect this mentality to spread in 2022.
Improving the UX is no quick fix. It’s a big project—and one that will take a while to solve fully.
A breakthrough year
The emergence of the metaverse has thrust AR/XR into the limelight. But while this is certainly a massive opportunity for the industry, it also comes with increased scrutiny and pressure to innovate further.
Simplifying the AR authoring approach is going to be a key priority in 2022 and beyond. As things stand, there’s not enough content to make the metaverse immersive—and it’s too difficult to make. This content then needs to be supported by tools that are more powerful, and have a better user experience than the market currently offers.
AR is an incredibly innovative sector. However, the industry needs to take several technological leaps if it's going to fulfill its potential, which we are confident that it will.
2022’s going to be a bumper year for the XR industry—and we can’t wait to be a part of it.