Augmented reality (AR) guide: What it is & how it works?

Augmented reality (AR) guide: What it is & how it works?

Augmented reality technology has unprecedentedly grown in the last couple of years. Market leaders such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are actively using AR technology in their products. According to MarketsandMarkets, the market for AR technology is worth $15.3 billion now. In this article, we will explain what AR is, how it works and how it is used in mobile app development. We will also include an AR guide for the app development process.

What does AR mean?

AR stands for Augmented Reality. If you check a dictionary, the definition of augmented reality will be the following: “An enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera)”.

For better understanding, we can split the definition into three parts:

  1. It is an enriched version of reality;
  2. It is enabled by technology (mostly by mobile devices);
  3. This enhanced version of reality is usually interactive.

In other words, augmented reality (AR) is a technology that enriches the world you see by adding digital content (images, texts, videos) to real-life objects captured by a device camera in real-time.

How does AR work?

So now that you know the meaning of AR, you may wonder how it works.

Augmented reality begins with a camera-equipped device loaded with AR software, such as a smartphone. When a person points to the device and looks at an object, the software recognizes it through computer vision technology. The device then downloads information about the object from the cloud, in a quite similar way that a web browser loads a page via URL. What the user sees next is partially real and partially digital. As the user moves, the size and orientation of the AR display automatically adjust to the shifting context. In the end, the  user observes a very interesting and exciting augmented environment.

Therefore, the following components are needed:

  • Device camera: You need a camera to record visual information to add to an existing object or place. The camera should be capable of calculating the subject’s distance and angle from it.
  • Registration tools: These are tools, such as motion sensors, that allow a computer to define the space where it would place the objects that should be around the AR user.
  • Computer vision: As you use the camera, it takes images from the outside world for interpretation and referencing using a machine learning (ML) algorithm. The ML algorithm combines all pieces of information and adds a creative touch to give the user an immersive and believable AR experience.
  • Output device: This refers to the display device where users can view the resulting image or video.

Types of AR

There are a few ways to execute AR. Below is a review of AR key types.

Marker-based Augmented Reality

This AR requires a visual marker or a distinct image that the device camera recognizes and then processes to reveal information about an object. The markers are usually  the following: a QR code, a custom logo, or artwork. For example, the camera recognizes the QR code that triggers the corresponding image to be displayed on the screen. Marker-based AR is very popular because it is user-friendly and inexpensive to implement.

Markerless Augmented Reality

As it is obvious from the term, it requires no visual markers for a camera to enhance an image with AR. Instead, you move virtual objects. A good example of markerless AR is an interior design app, like the IKEA app, that lets people put pieces of furniture in various arrangements to see how they would look. Another example is a fashion app, such as the SneakerKit app, that allows users to try on an item in augmented reality before the purchase.

Projector-based Augmented Reality

This type operates using advanced projection technology to simplify hard manual tasks that are part of a company’s manufacturing, sequencing, or training operations. It can be applied to light guide systems. In a factory, for instance, instead of asking employees to follow step-by-step instructions to create a product using a manual, the lights indicating each step could be used.

Superimposition Based Augmented Reality

This type of AR brings a replacement view of the object in focus. The program works by replacing the partial or complete view of an object using augmented view. Here object recognition plays a significant role.

Where is AR used?

Although AR entered the market in the late 1960s, it has become extremely popular in recent years. Nowadays, as the number of mobile apps increases, the usage of AR is also growing. Below we listed just a few uses of AR.

  • Public safety and security: Smartphone apps that help people find needed information during emergencies now use AR. These public safety apps guide people on where to go and what to do in critical situations.
  • Gaming and entertainment: Pokemon Go has proved how valuable AR is in mobile games. We expect more AR mobile games to emerge.
  • Education: AR could become a breakthrough in education. Could you imagine a classroom enhanced by AR? Or conducting AR surgery? This could be our immediate future. 
  • Fitness apps: Some apps are already offering virtual walks around the city of your choice. In addition to a huge number of steps made per day, the user also gets a chance to virtually explore the city they have never been to.
  • Equipment maintenance: If AR is already helping medical students to learn how to perform surgery on a human patient, then it can teach us how to fix a rocket. Or a microwave. Or practically anything that needs to be repaired or maintained.

AR development guide

Developing an AR-based application may seem intimidating and hard at first. However, if you split the development process into small steps, it won’t frighten you so much anymore.

Below we have listed a step-by-step AR mobile app development guide for you to better understand how to manage the app development process.

  1. First, validate an app idea. To do this, perform the target audience analysis and analyze your competitors. The app idea should maximize your business growth – then it could be considered a successful one.
  2. Get acquainted with a variety of existing SDKs (software development kits) and AR app development platforms. Select the one that best suits your budget, app idea, and business model.
  3. Take care about 3D objects – you will need them for successful AP implementation. You can either download existing 3D models or ask the design team to create unique ones specifically for your app.
  4. Don’t forget to develop a 2D tracker, a picture to put on a surface and scan by AR-aided devices.
  5. Ensure that your team has prepared all the design-related stuff: wireframes, 3D models, UX/UI and graphic designs, animations.
  6. Start the coding phase. Put all the elements together on the preferred app development platform.
  7. Check. Check. And once again check. Never avoid testing your app in every possible way before its final launch.

Now it doesn’t look that scary, does it? Still, if you lack the design and development competencies, it is better to address the team that provides professional AR development services. They will take care of the implementation, while you could focus on your business growth, marketing, sales, and management.

Popular SDKs and AR app development platforms

You might not be aware of all the nuances of the AR-based app development process, but you should research the popular platforms used for AR app development to make a good choice fitting your budget and business goals.

Some of the best AR platforms are ARCore, DroidAR (specifically for Android), Metaio SDK, ARToolKit, Vuforia SDK, Wikitude SDK, and ARKit. Most of these allow support for multiple platforms including iOS, Android, Google Glass, Windows, and Unity. Let’s take a closer look at some of them.


Vuforia provides various products for developing AR experiences, such as Vuforia Engine, Studio, and Chalk. The SDK supports the creation of both marker-based and markerless AR. It possesses several key features that make it one of the best platforms for object recognition and 3D modeling:

  • Ground Plane – adding content to horizontal surfaces;
  • Visual Camera – expanding supported visual sources beyond mobile phones and tablets;
  • VuMarks – custom markers that can be used in Vuforia face recognition and also encode data.


Wikitude is a good choice if you want to develop an AR app for iOS, Android, and Smart Glasses devices. The SDK not only supports a variety of tracking methods and technologies, but it also incorporates geolocation, cloud recognition, and distance-based scaling features.


ARKit is the platform used for AR app development for iOS devices. The SDK relies on camera sensor data and additional data to detect and analyze users’ surroundings for AR visualization. ARKit also supports fast motion tracking, face tracking, Quick Look (displaying models and scenes that can be moved and scaled easily), and various rendering effects.


ARCore could be considered an analog of ARKit, but for Android-based devices. ARCore comes with the standard bundle of AR features (motion tracking, surface detection, light estimation), as well as several advanced features, such as augmented images (custom responses to specific types of 2D shapes and objects) and multiplayer (rendering of the same 3D objects on different devices simultaneously).


ARToolKit is an open-source and free-to-use SDK available for AR development for devices based on different platforms. Apart from Android and iOS, ARToolKit is used for AR apps on Windows, Linux, and OS X. The platform supports tracking of planar images and simple black squares, natural feature marker generation, real-time speed support, and easy camera calibration.

Developing an AR app can be tricky, so it’s important to choose the right technologies and products to drive your project. Using one of the above platforms could drastically enhance your time to market so they’re worth exploring.

AR examples of mobile apps

AR Translation – Word Lens

Have you already checked the “Word Lens” feature? Google allows you to feel more comfortable in any foreign country. Open the Google Translate app and focus your smartphone camera on the text you need to translate. The app will show you the translation live even without the Internet connection.


SketchAR turns your smartphone screen into an augmented reality drawing aid, overlaying a sketch or line art image on a blank piece of paper that you can then trace over or use as the basis of your own sketch. Users can choose from a library of sketches included in the app, or transform their own photos into traceable line art with the app.

YouCam Makeup

Buying makeup is typically a leap of faith – you might get to try on samples at the makeup counter, but fluorescent lighting plays tricks on the eyes and doesn’t account for typical selfie lighting conditions. But YouCam does, allowing shoppers to test makeup from tons of major brands with AR technology.


Houzz is one of the top AR apps for planning interior layouts and design. The “View in My Room” feature uses AR technology to place products into a photo of the user’s home by means of 3D technology, so the resulting image is lifelike. It even goes as far as showing what the product will look like in different lighting.

Google Maps

The popular mapping app Google Maps features an AR mode that helps you navigate to your destination by adding virtual signs and directional arrows over the live view on your phone in order to point the way.

Future of AR

  • As per Statista reports, the forecast share of the augmented reality and virtual reality combination spending in 2020 was 37.4%.
  • According to eComDash, around 63% of online shoppers agreed that AR enhanced their shopping experience
  • According to Poplar’s AR report, in 2022, there will be approximately 3.5 billion AR users.
  • Approximately 83.1 million people are expected to use augmented reality at least once a month.
  • Small and medium-sized businesses are expected to invest in AR and VR with a CAGR of 66.40% from 2018 to 2025.
  • According to Statista, there will be approximately 2.4 billion mobile AR users worldwide in 2023.

The statistics mentioned above are a sheer proof of how AR is contributing to economic growth. Thus, it is obvious that we should expect AR to flood the market.


To sum up, the AR market is definitely growing at an incredible pace. The proofs are in the number of companies generating AR experiences, the number of applications appearing, the number of sectors that are introducing Augmented Reality as a way of getting a competitive advantage.

The augmented version of reality has become a smart investment plan for businesses. If you are planning to add some augmented reality to your application and gain more customers this way, we would be delighted to help you. Swagsoft is a leading AR app development company in Singapore that is excited to contribute our AR development skills to your product. Contact us to get your app developed and augmented.