What is an Augmented Reality App?

February 18th, 2020

Eduard Luta

Augmented Reality App. Software and hardware are already revolutionizing the worlds of work and entertainment with breathtaking possibilities.

What we once considered only possible in movies, now seems to be everyday routine. The digital revolution is marching forward, producing one of the most advanced technologies: augmented reality.

Many scientists in the past imagined what augmented reality might be in the future, but only recently have technological advances made that vision possible.

Over the past 50 years, augmented reality technology has changed the way we consume content in the real world.

Augmented reality technology was invented  by Ivan Sutherland in 1968 with the development of the first head-mounted display system.

However, the term “augmented reality” was not coined until 1990. And what about today?

A new development was just announced at the Consumer Electronics Show 2020: contact lenses with augmented reality.

Pioneers and platforms for Augmented Reality Apps

Pioneers and platforms that have contributed greatly to the creation of augmented reality apps are summarized chronologically here in the following short list:

  • Metaio – Metaio was established in Munich, Germany in 2003 and was the first to provide a software development kit (SDK) for programming PC, web, mobile and custom offline augmented reality apps. Metaio founded Junaio, a free AR mobile browser that was available for Android and iOS devices. That company was acquired by Apple in May of 2015.
  • Vuforia – This software development kit (SDK) for mobile devices can be used to create augmented reality apps. It uses computer vision technology to detect and track 3D objects in real time. With this feature, developers are able to position and align virtual objects, such as 3D models and other media, in relation to real-world objects when viewed through the camera of a mobile device. The virtual object tracks the position and orientation of the image in real time so that the viewer’s perspective of the object matches the perspective of the target. It appears as if the virtual object is part of the real world.
  • Wikitude – (World Browser) is an augmented reality app for mobile devices developed by the Austrian company Wikitude (Mobilizy before the end of May, 2011) and released as freeware in October 2008. Wikitude is also the first mobile app based on a location-oriented approach to augmented reality.
  • Tango – was a project by Google that was able to bring augmented reality to mobile phones and was the first project to use depth sensors – as on the HoloLens or Magic Leap One. This allowed a very high level of accuracy to be achieved. However, Tango requires special sensors that were only installed on a few devices and Apple captured market share with ARKit, so Google had to find a solution suitable for the broad public. As a result, Tango was discontinued in 2014 and replaced by ARCore, although from today’s point of view it still provides the best mobile AR experience. [RG1]
  • ARCore – Google introduced a new AR system called ARCore in response to Apple’s ARKit at the end of August 2018. It also includes the essential functions for developing AR experiences.
  • ARKit – is Apple’s augmented reality development platform for newer iOS mobile devices, includes the essential AR function, and is available free of charge, unlike Vuforia and Wikitude. It makes augmented reality suitable for widespread use by enabling broad distribution allowing developers to use it for free. The created AR scenes can be made persistent and can also be seen by other people who visit the place later.
  • VisionLib – An SDK developed at the Frauenhofer Institute that enables very good 3D object recognition.

Today Vuforia, ARKit, ARCore, VisionLib and Wikitude are the most used SDKs for AR experiences on mobile phones. Many basic functions are often identical, but they differ in reliability, accuracy, and stability in the more difficult areas, such as object recognition and image recognition.

What are AR, VR and MR – a brief explanation

AR – Augmented reality is typically used on devices with 2D screens, such as mobile phones and tablets. It alters the view of a real environment with superimposed, computer-generated images that change the perception of reality. More simply put, when an AR app is used, the mobile device displays real-world camera images enhanced with digital elements by the AR apps.

VR – Virtual reality surrounds the user with a virtual world and hides the real world. Experts describe this as immersing yourself in virtual reality using virtual reality apps. This lets users perceive the displayed experiences with all their senses and immerse themselves in this world. The journey into virtual reality takes place via special VR glasses.

MR – Mixed reality is typically used with data glasses and allows a full 3D experience. Like augmented reality, it combines elements of the real and virtual worlds, including all intermediate stages of the two realities. In mixed reality, the content of the virtual and real worlds interacts and increasingly merges. For example, if you place a virtual vase on a real table and move the table, the vase moves with the table. It behaves in a very natural way and follows the table movement.

  Virtual Reality Augmented Reality Mixed Reality

Real world present?



Interaction with the real and virtual world?


Three-dimensional experience and natural merging of content in the real world and the virtual world?


What can an AR app do functionally?

Now you’ve learned a bit more about the terms augmented, virtual and mixed reality. But for many people, it’s still a pretty abstract and exotic technology that’s often associated with science fiction from Hollywood movies. Holograms, interactive displays and virtual 3D models have been around for a long time and are being used more and more.

What functions are possible with an AR app?

Placing and moving 3D objects

The first basic function is placing three-dimensional objects in space and moving freely around an object.

One good example of this is the IKEA PLCE app, which allows users to check whether a couch, armchair or new wardrobe will fit well in their bedroom or living room before purchasing IKEA furniture. To do this, IKEA PLACE uses augmented reality technology that inserts the furniture into a virtual view in the real world.

Highly realistic presentations possible

Light and shadow do more than just illuminate a dark scene. They are the secret to making something look as though it is part of an environment. Incorrect lighting and shadow effects are one of the most obvious visual discrepancies a viewer can perceive. As a successful illumination, Google AR Animals is now integrated into the German search function, allowing you to see many animals life-sized in your living room. According to Google, this is considered an important part of Google search. This function is very easy to use, you simply turn on AR mode and place a snake or a penguin, for example, in the room.

Koenigspython Ar Suche
(Image source: mixed.de)

Google plans to expand augmented reality in the search function continually with the intent of reflecting human anatomy, technology and natural products better.

Recognizing and scanning space

Another important part of realistic presentation is the spatial recognition. This allows AR content to be shown in a natural way in front of or behind people or objects. With the upgrades that are part of the brand-new Depth API from ARCore or ARKit’s People Occlusion, developers will soon be able to recognize the geometry of spaces or people. This also allows d occlusions to be performed, so that a virtual object to be hidden by other real objects in a scene. For example, Apple’s ARKit shows a woman standing in front of the AR content – here a plane – and you can see that the environment looks very natural, as in the photo below:

ARKit Apple
(Image source: Developer Apple)

Or another example: place a virtual cat in your living room and you can see the cat disappear from your field of view when you align your camera so that a bed, table or other object is in between:

ARKit Apple
(Image source: The Verge)

Networking, sharing experience, and saving AR content

AR Cloud

The AR cloud will change immersive technology. For augmented reality, the advent of 5G and advances in mobile technology are likely to play a crucial role. However, the most important development for the introduction of AR will be the AR cloud.


Because AR can only work on a large scale if an AR cloud is developed first. This is because the AR cloud allows information and experiences to be expanded, shared, and tied to specific physical locations, so that they exist for all apps and devices.

An app, whether on a mobile phone or 3D data glasses, essentially captures the image and depth information in its environment and compares it with the AR cloud database. This way the user’s exact location and viewing direction can be determined to centimeter accuracy. Once the location and orientation are known, the three-dimensional content provided by other users or systems can be displayed.

One example of this is Minecraft Earth, for which Microsoft Minecraft AR already presented at E3 2015 for the HoloLens augmented reality glasses. But it only became reality four years later, on the tenth anniversary of Minecraft. Microsoft released an augmented reality version of Mojang’s popular building classic in December, 2019. And not only for AR glasses, but also in a smartphone AR version. Now players can see and shape the real world and its environment in Minecraft style.


Navigation and path: Indoor navigation

The AR cloud not only allows content display in one place, but also enhances navigation – much more accurately than is possible with GPS, and even in buildings.

It is estimated that the spread of AR-based indoor navigation applications in various consumer sectors will grow tremendously in the coming years as technologies evolve, Since users will become increasingly digital and more willing to use new technologies in their daily lives.

Indoor navigation differs considerably from outdoor navigation in terms of complexity. Millions of people currently use the technology when navigating outdoors, because it doesn’t require much power and the technology is established and standardized. Modern smartphones and even smartwatches have built-in GPS and maps.

AR indoor navigation technology, on the other hand, is quite complex because it must quickly determine the exact location and direction of the user from the image data of the camera – even if the environment changes due to different lighting conditions, the presence or absence of crowds, or changes in the surroundings such as new advertising posters.

However, the SBB AR Preview app demonstrates that this is already possible. It works reliably, and it lets you find your way around a train station better, as well as view real-time information about your trip. The current version of the app makes it easier for you to orient yourself and plan your travel at Zurich Central Station and other stops throughout Switzerland.


How can AR apps be used in everyday business?

Many of today’s augmented reality apps are used in marketing and consumer AR, where they influence the choice of products or consumer brand attitudes. For example:you’re buying a shirt and you try on a few to decide which one suits you best. Or you take a tour through an apartment in Porto that you want to rent this summer. Or you’re looking for a new table for your living room, but don’t want to spend hours flipping through magazines, Instead you want to see what the table would look like in your living room before considering buying it. Just imagine, you can do that from the comfort of your own home. And how is that possible? Thanks to AR and VR apps.

AR and VR blur the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds by offering a new form of interaction with customers, colleagues and the world around us. AR and VR have enormous market potential for making work and life easier.

Augmented reality apps are also finding their way into the everyday life of companies. Enterprise augmented reality is becoming increasingly important and helps companies achieve their efficiency, cost and innovation goals.

Planning and construction

For example, in planning and construction. With Sitevision from Trimble’s Augmented Reality System, you can visualize road, rail, and terrain maps with incredible accuracy. In this way, you can simplify cooperation in projects and facilitate communication between various parties on the job site.

Inspection and assembly

With our augmented reality app Inspect AR, we achieve measurable success in companies of various sizes and industries. For example, AugmentIT customers can achieve an average increase in workforce efficiency of 32 percent.

The augmented reality app Inspect AR is most commonly used for tasks such as inspection and maintenance. Inspect AR, for example, benefits many processes in the areas of system control, inspection tours, receiving and outbound checks, final acceptance, safety and compliance checks, as well as maintenance and quality assurance.

Inspect AR is also used in assembly. Inspect AR acts as a kind of virtual template that helps to detect and correct defects during assembly. Another application area for Inspect AR is training, instruction and familiarization. Inspect AR supports companies with training their employees to repair systems and products more efficiently.

Another major advantage of Inspect AR is that you can use different devices for the same inspection. This allows several employees to participate in the same inspection. Another benefit of Inspect AR is efficient work, as well as increasing and ensuring the quality of the inspections performed. It is also possible to analyze data and reduce the number of less skilled workers to enable use in relatively complex activities. By the way, AugmentIT’s augmented reality app can be used on all current Android phones and tablets, AR glasses and industrial solutions (RealWear).

The augmented reality app in the operating room of tomorrow

The augmented reality app not only has the potential to protect people’s health but also to save lives, as demonstrated by a project at the University Hospital for Neurosurgery at the Inselspital in Bern.

Recently, innovative mixed reality has been used there to practice applications in neurosurgery. For example, patient findings as well as CT and MRI scans can be visualized via the HoloLens. This allows the surgeons to structure the surgical procedure in the team under realistic conditions and to identify possible complications as well as distinctive patient-specific characteristics, such as vascular constrictions, at an early stage. This increases understanding of the situation and reduces errors. The virtual image of an organ or body could be visualized in detail by an augmented reality app, and the surgical procedure could be precisely planned using AR technology.

Where are things headed in 2020?

Businesses will be able to use AR apps better and, above all, more productively. They will be more stable, safer and more scalable to create real added value.

The availability of new devices, such as the HoloLens 2, and new software will make augmented and mixed reality apps attractive for operational use.

We have high expectations for Inspect AR and HoloLens 2. You too? Then let’s start today!

Do you have any questions about augmented reality apps? You are welcome to make an appointment with us for a consultation or product demonstration. Our team looks forward to immersing ourselves in your work environment and creating productive benefits for you.

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