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Top tips for scaling up AR apps

AR app placing the Gruffalo on the screen between two real children

Augmented reality (AR) looks set to have a good 2018, especially when you see that investment – across all industries – is significantly higher than its sibling virtual reality (VR).

Perhaps the reason AR had a slower start than VR is that it's not necessarily a new technology in the creative industries. Where I work at Nexus Studios, we'd already used AR in a commercial project five years ago.

However, since then there have been some pretty mega technological advances; from tracking a marker, to rendering graphics, to the smartphone (the single most important hardware device we own). 2017 is really the year to showcase what is now possible; creatively and technically.

Create experiences that are easy to access

The opportunity for AR is being heavily driven by its easy adoption; everyone has a smartphone and knows how to download apps. And the emergence of big computers and new headset options should not be downplayed.

For example, when we were working with the Obama administration on an AR project, the initial brief was to use AR as the technology platform as it offered an exciting creative opportunity without any financial or time investment on the part of the user.

Also working in its favour is the fact that mobile AR can be built once but seen everywhere. So if the marker is a movie poster, then this experience can be seen wherever the movie poster is, whether that's in a magazine, on the underground, at the bus stop, on TV, online, or even on a massive billboard. That represents a real opportunity for adoption and ROI.

Of course, high adoption and ROI are only possible if the experiences themselves are noteworthy and therefore have a social impact among groups of friends.

AR has to credit projects like Pokemon Go and platforms like Snapchat for introducing the potential of the technology as a storytelling medium – but I think we're now going to see it adopted as a film-making medium.

Create fun projects

In 2017 we released our AR project for the Gruffalo brand, Gruffalo Spotters. In it, kids could engage with characters from the book and movies while on the Gruffalo trail. Meanwhile our White House project, 1600, was essentially an interactive 90-second film.

So the potential is there; it's still the beginning really. Just like the radical learning developments we've made in film-making for virtual reality (like Pearl getting an Oscar nomination), we must now do the same for AR.

Use mixed reality

As AR develops it's worth keeping an eye on mixed-reality (MR). Often confused with augmented reality, MR offers the opportunity for real world and digital to co-exist in the same space, all in real time and fully interactive. The experiences can be 'intelligent', with an understanding of their environment (in contrast, AR uses the marker to 'place' the digital experience).

A good example of the potential of MR is the demo of Portal on Microsoft's HoloLens. Products like the HoloLens or Magic Leap offer insight into the potential creative opportunities with MR.

In other tech, phones like the ASUS ZenFone AR and Lenovo Phab 2 Pro are utilising depth cameras and specific hardware like Google's Tango for the same creative opportunities. The MR industry is getting really exciting and of course, the opportunity as a mobile experience is huge.

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Luke Ritchie is head of interactive arts at Nexus Studios