Forget Pokémon Go and all those heavy augmented reality apps. AR is coming to browsers, with Google Chrome leading the way. It gets even better: with the new WebXR technology, you can enjoy augmented reality even if your phone doesn’t officially support AR! How? Read our little guide to find out.
Ever wanted a pet lion?
In the past, if you searched “lion” on Google, you’d just get a list of text results. Next came YouTube videos about lions, news stories, and the Wikipedia entry on lions:
But if you thought that’s just about as far as Google can go, you’re wrong. If you use Chrome and a smartphone that supports AR, you’ll also see this in your search results:
Click on “View in 3D,” and watch a realistic 3D lion materialize in your room!
This is augmented reality in action: a virtual object is superimposed on real surroundings. Note that you don’t need to install any app for this to work. This is called WebAR – an augmented reality experience that works right in your browser. By the way, WebAR is Arzilla’s main specialty – we believe that augmented reality without apps is the future!
If you can see the animals, that means that you can access just about any WebAR experience out there, such as the excellent Lego Masters Builder, where you can get creative with an infinite number of Lego bricks.
Does my phone support AR?
If you didn’t see the “View in 3D” snippet when you searched for “lion,” it’s most likely because your phone doesn’t support ARCore yet. (Don’t worry, though. You can still access AR thanks to Google WebXR – read on!)
ARCore is Google‘s own software development kit (SDK) for building augmented reality apps and WebAR experiences. Its major rival is Apple’s augmented reality SDK for iOS, AR Kit.
Support for ARCore isn’t built into phones at the hardware level – rather, it’s a process of certification. Google verifies that the phone has a good enough camera, motion sensors, CPU, etc.
ARCore 1.0 was released more than two years ago. At first, it was supported mostly only by Google Pixel phones, but by now, most iPhones, as well as new Samsung, Huawei, OnePlus, LG, Asus, Oppo, and Xiaomi phones running Android 8.0 or higher allow you to view AR experiences created with AR Core.
You can find the full list of ARCore-compatible models here.
Now you know how to access hundreds of 3D AR experiences in Google Chrome on your AR-enabled smartphone. But what if your device isn’t ARCore-certified?
Several years from now, we might look back on April 7, 2020, as a key date in the history of technology. Why? Because that was the release date of Chrome 81, which has WebXR capabilities.
XR stands for “extended reality” – AR, VR, and MR (mixed reality) all at the same time. So when you don’t want to say or write out “VR, AR, and MR,” you can just say “XR.”
For the first time, WebAR has become accessible to users on all mobile devices – even those that don’t support AR by default.
Google initially started with virtual reality, but now, thousands of developers are already using its WebVR programming interface to build VR experiences. But all VR apps require a device, such as Google Cardboard or Oculus Rift. That’s a major obstacle for many mobile users. Even though a Google Cardboard costs only $10, it’s not something you would carry around with you all the time, right?
Web-based AR is a completely different story. You don’t need to wear goggles or download an app. All you need is a smartphone with a rear camera and the latest version of Chrome installed – as well as, of course, an experience built with the WebXR API.
The downside of WebXR: we need more experiences
Being able to enjoy AR technology on any smartphone is an amazing advance. The only thing we’re lacking now is the actual experiences.
WebXR is still a very new interface, so it will take several months before developers start to seriously build experiences with it. Google stresses that the API is essentially the same as WebVR, so any augmented reality developer who already knows how to build a VR app with Google’s SDK can jump into AR right away.
We at ARzilla are definitely going to work with this amazing new interface. Hopefully, in a few months, we’ll have dozens of experiences to share with you. For now, you can get a taste of this “augmented reality for the masses” with two sample experiments by the Immersive Web Working Group:
– Hit Test – makes sunflowers grow out of any surface.
– Immersive AR Session – allows you to visualize a model of the Solar System wherever you are.
Let us stress this once again: if you have a phone that is ARCore-compatible from the get-go, you can use Chrome to view WebAR experiences created on other platforms as well, not just WebXR. But if your device isn’t certified for ARCore, you’re limited to those made with WebXR.
Where all this could lead
It might seem like the development of AR functionality in Chrome is moving in baby steps. But in a couple of years, you could be using augmented reality in your browser for just about anything:
– Choosing dishes in a restaurant using 3D AR models that spring right out of the menu
– Fixing your car or computer following instructions that appear on the phone screen
– Examining sculptures or historical artifacts in AR in the classroom or a museum
– Learning about planets or the human body with AR
– And so much more!
We are super excited about augmented reality in Google Chrome. But we’re also worried, because most people still don’t know what it is! You can help us spread AR around the world by sharing this post with your friends: Let them know that they can experience AR right here, right now, right in their Chrome window!