9 Jun · 9 min read
For decades now, online clothing stores have used customization menus on their product pages to create a tailored selection for customers. Some have even created a dedicated “build it yourself” application with a wide array of customization options. All of these customization solutions are called configurators, and are now used in many more industries by product and service companies alike. With demand booming and companies new to the trend scrambling to catch up, the focus has shifted to product configurator development of many forms.
If you’re looking to implement a product configurator for your store, but don’t want to use the same hackneyed approach used by other companies in your field, you might want to consider an AR product configurator. This immersive solution carries the same basic benefits as other configurators, with some awesome added perks that let you stand out from competitors and give customers a superior experience.
Have questions? No problem! In this guide, we will tell you all about this Augmented Reality approach and everything you need to build this amazing solution.
Augmented Reality is one of the big three immersive technologies (also includes virtual reality and mixed reality) with its own peculiarities. AR apps use a device camera, scanning the user surroundings and displaying them on the screen, but with new 3D objects displayed on top, as if they were really there in the physical world. As such, the technology grants several unique benefits to an augmented reality product configurator:
If you want to impress users beyond just giving them a bold product description, this certainly does the trick. Using your app, they will not just see the product on the screen, but also in their home, on the street, wherever it can be visualized. It’s like window shopping, but more interactive and without the need to visit an actual store.
Augmented reality is the most accessible of all immersive technology, since it does not require a headset like VR and MR or special hardware beyond a device with a camera. Thus, users can access it anywhere and anytime if they have a gadget with them. Some apps even run without an internet connection, so customers can choose their model before visiting or connecting to your website.
AR gives you a sense of spatial awareness that is not found on a website. Instead of seeing the product in a virtual showroom, customers can see it scaled to their room, house, or other location. For example, they can see how much space a bicycle will take up in their closet. Furthermore, you can use 3D product models with a high level of detail that will be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.
The range of effects afforded by AR goes far beyond simply visualizing a 3D object in space. For example, you can overlay the models on things in movement (like a virtual pair of sneakers moving with a person as they walk) or add additional effects (like showing how a certain makeup product will look applied to the face. You can even create animations of the item functioning or visualizing its internal components.
The market for AR configurators is still relatively young, so you could be the “first kid on the block” to use this technology. Beyond bragging rights, you get a leap up over your competitors in terms of improving the customer experience and eat away at their market share. Even if they choose to make a similar solution in the future, you will have already established yourself as the leader in this field.
Unless you have developed or tried various AR apps before, you probably don’t know much about how they work or what kind of features you can pack into them. Let’s fix that.
For starters, we will look at how AR apps run on different platforms:
Smartphones and tablets make up the most widespread targets for AR apps, mainly due to portability. Thus, companies targeting this niche tend to create apps for iOS and Android which require a device that supports the technology and has a working camera. These applications can be offline and carry all the product models inside for easy viewing or be more advanced and connect to the web, downloading needed assets and allowing the user to make purchases.
WebAR is a groundbreaking technology allowing users to access augmented experiences in any web browser. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of an augmented reality without the “reality” part, so the browser has to access the camera to create the visualization. Essentially, it is a web application that does not have to be installed on the device, which you can access with just a click. Many eCommerce providers have found this approach to be most user-friendly, as some new customers may not want to download a mobile app to see your products, but will happily open a web page that runs a WebAR app.
While there are other types of AR-supporting devices available to consumers (chiefly glasses and headsets), they tend to stick out like a sore thumb and lack much of the functionality you could get on a smartphone. They have their uses, but are mostly applied in enterprise work and training settings for now.
Developing an AR configurator app, you have a much larger box of tools to work with than you’d have for a regular desktop or mobile app. This means you can add a wide variety of features to enhance the user experience. Below are some examples:
You can implement a comprehensive tracking system into your app that will respond to various body movements. Most people like to work with their hands, so for example, you could implement a feature where the user holds up their hand in front of their device and the product is visualized between two fingers. The user can then rotate and zoom in on the item by pinching, moving, and spreading their fingers.
At the very least, you can program your app to recognize surfaces and typical settings (floor, pavement, water, etc.). However, you can go further and create a marker-based tracking system that recognizes specific people, objects, and settings. For example, if you’re selling accessories to the Tesla Model 3 car, you can create a marker of this car build and have the app recognize when the user is pointing at it, making further accessorization accurate and smooth.
Most devices that support AR also support location services (like GPS), so you can take advantage of this fact by adding tailored suggestions based on user location. For example, you might use the client’s location to offer them the closest store/site where they can pick up their item once they have selected what they want to buy in the customizer.
If you want to give customers a deeper level of interaction with your product that goes beyond tapping and gesturing on and behind a screen, you can add meaningful interactions that involve real physical modifications. For example, if you’re providing a customer with replacement printer parts, you can have them scan their existing printer in the app and add instructions for finding/modifying the part, which will change as the user moves through the steps and the app recognizes the changes.
Let’s not forget about the features present in practically all mobile devices – sound and vibration. You can put these two to good use and increase immersion by adding feedback when the app user performs a certain action or makes a selection. It could be a sound and vibration that lets them know they are on the right track or if they missed something/made a mistake.
You can get a sense of what a successful AR configurator looks by examining FurnitARe, an application built by Program-Ace. FurnitARe is meant to be used in the furniture, interior design, and real estate industries as a tool that lets users see how furniture will look in their home/office/other before buying and installing it.
It was not built for any particular store or brand, though it does feature a sample catalog of furniture that users can visualize in their surroundings. Additionally, it lets users upload and test custom 3D models for free. The experience is incredibly simple and intuitive, and usually takes only 1-2 minutes to get started.
The app’s positioning features are based on a state-of-the-art tracking system that succeeds in recognizing various surfaces, obstacles, and gaging measurements of the user surroundings. It was built on the Unity game engine and made available to iOS and Android users around the globe.
Before you jump into development, we want to make it clear that this is hardly the optimal choice for every company. It will take months of work in modeling, coding, setting up infrastructure, and testing before you get a functional application, and not every company has the resources to do it.
Unfortunately, very few product companies have a team of developers qualified in building AR apps, so those who don’t will need to hire them or train existing developers (multiple months). This is why we recommend hiring custom configurator development services (more on that in the next section) if your business lacks experience in AR development.
Should you choose to go at it alone, we recommend using a game engine for most of your needs. Unity and Unreal Engine are two popular choices, though there are surely others that fit some project types better. Another consideration will be the software development kit you choose for your AR-specific functionality. You can find a breakdown of some of the most popular choices in our AR SDK guide.
We have talked a lot about building a configurator for customers, but it is also important to mention that some businesses build this type of solution for their internal needs – mainly prototyping. If they are in the process of creating a new product, an AR configurator can be an invaluable tool for examining visualizations of the item in its intended place of use and testing which aspects of it work and which do not.
Working with an outsourcing development partner to get your project done is a budget-friendly choice that usually beats the alternative of hiring full-time from your local talent partner or working with freelancers. You can find more information about the pros and cons of this business model in this outsourcing guide.
While there are multiple companies and studios ready to build AR apps today, few of them carry the expertise and knowledge of configurator development offered by Program-Ace. Our company has built dozens of configurators in the past, with some of our recent projects showcased in our portfolio.
If you choose to work with our product configurator development company, we guarantee to deliver a time- and cost-effective solution tailored to your business and featuring some of the finest examples of experience design you have ever seen. You can count on us to put our decades of development experience to good use and give you and your customers something truly special that will add great business value.
We are excited to hear about your project! Want to know more about cooperation? – Just contact us.
Leave a comment