The five layers of the AR ecosystem

8 min read
Blog Author

The five layers of the AR ecosystem

Blog Author
8 min read
We examine the AR landscape for 2019 and how brands and creatives alike can leverage the power AR through ZapWorks. We discuss key industry advancements such as ARKit, ARCore, WebAR and assess content delivery methods, including Snap, Facebook, QR Codes and Zappar's native app capabilities.

The field of augmented reality is entering an exciting new phase as we hit the perfect storm of mass proliferation of supported devices delivering the camera quality, processing power and battery life required to deliver rich AR experiences. Meanwhile, we’ve witnessed the mass market adoption of AR through globally ubiquitous apps such as Snap with Face Filters, Facebook, Instagram and of course, Pokemon Go.

This has combined with the groundswell of support and continued investment from the likes of Apple and Google, with SDKs in ARKit and ARCore providing low-level world tracking to more developers. Finally, on the horizon there’s the tantalising prospect of the opening up of mobile web AR - removing the requirement of a native app for AR experiences. The floodgates are well and truly open for a more digitally connected AR world.

Join us in exploring the five layers of the AR ecosystem


We now have the power to have a direct dialogue with end users on the device that matters most to them in their lives (their smartphone) at the point where they are interacting with a brand and product. This shift is profound and happening right now.


The five layers of the AR ecosystem

The technology has reached a point of maturity where we’ve shifted beyond novelty into and always-on camera function, and with that comes a high level of choice. That’s why we want to support you in demystifying the current AR ecosystem, so you can consider how AR fits into your broader business objectives and marketing strategy, and help you efficiently make an informed decision on the experiences, platforms and delivery methods that work best for your objectives. From AR creators to c-suite executives - now is the time to be prepared to think more deeply about how your brand and business should look and behave through the lens of a smartphone.

More and more global brands are taking this very seriously at the highest levels of their organisations. Brands like Nestle, 7-Eleven, Hasbro, Tilly’s, Pez, Rovio, Walmart and many more have implemented AR as a facilitating technology and part of their omnichannel approach to marketing and sales.

To accompany our video walkthrough, here are the five layers of the AR ecosystem you should understand as a business or brand wanting to think more strategically about AR.


1) Scanning, detection and tracking

The first layer is scanning, detection and tracking. Effective AR has the ability to work across the majority of devices (both on iOS and Android) to quickly recognise the image it is trying to augment in the camera view and follow its relative position in every camera frame.

There are a number of different types of tracking that can be utilized for AR.

Image tracking remains a popular scanning method, ideal for connecting marketing collateral at events or product packaging to interactive digital content. This works by ‘training’ an image to be detected by a smartphone camera as a way of triggering and then tracking the AR experience.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned ARKit and ARCore have made world tracking a steadily more popular method - enabling the creation of popular ‘portal’ experiences that can situate an AR experience in real-life 3D space which users can physically explore.

The contextual relevance of AR content can be honed further with location tracking technology. This ties experiences to a particular GPS location or network connection, triggering an AR experience based on the user’s proximity, with fascinating potential for treasure hunts, physical retail activations and ‘flash mob’ style content.

The increased popularity of face tracking, where both 3D and 2D content can be mapped directly to a user’s face and manipulated by movement and expressions, is exemplified by the breakout success of face filters (particularly via Snap and Facebook). This method emphasises intuitive usability, fast access to content and accurate tracking.

So, the way that AR experiences are activated are evolving and diversifying to meet a wide range of different contexts and use cases. It’s important to focus in on your objectives for leveraging AR as a business and seeing which tracking and detection method is best suited to achieving your goals.



2) Content creation

The second layer is all about content creation. It’s one thing to be able to scan, detect and track a physical object or place, but that’s not particularly useful to an end user if they can’t get a great experience from it!

An important part of the content creation process is understanding what toolkit you need for the job. Are you creating a one-off face filter to augment an existing marketing campaign or are you looking to roll out a wider, more strategic AR campaign, tied to a calendar of content? Both options are valid, but starting with the business problem first then selecting the best tool for the job is always advisable. 

There are plenty of choices out there, with AR content creation becoming more accessible with the likes of Snap and Facebook recently entering the fray. As always, ZapWorks provides one of the most robust and affordable AR toolkits on the market.  This also gives you the broadest range of tools to cater for different use cases - from external marketing to internal communications, learning, training and development.


3) Serving, hosting and analytics

The third layer is serving, hosting and analytics. A really important part of any successful AR campaign (and indeed our own ecosystem) is the ability to serve content over the air and avoid the need for any additional app submissions and app updates for new experiences. 

For brands and businesses to be successful with AR, they need a robust, scalable and measurable solution in place to allow for speedy content delivery on the fly while surfacing new and important insights on their customers and products. 

Simply put, having the right serving, hosting and analytics solutions in place allows for ongoing conversations with audiences through updatable, measurable AR experiences that open up totally new opportunities for previously passive print and static media.

4) A light SDK for easy app integration

The fourth layer is making this function into a light SDK that’s easy to integrate into an existing or new standalone app. Agility is a really important element when it comes to normalizing AR and improving user engagement with the medium. While the technology remains relatively new to many consumers, long loading times or unintuitive access routes can so often shift from a pain point to a user putting their smartphone straight back in their pocket and moving on.

The key benefit to brands here is in being able to add a new camera feature with AR capabilities to a branded app to drive installs, active usage and connect to all your physical real estate as part of an omni-channel strategy.



5) The distribution method

Finally, the fifth layer is the ability to determine the best distribution method and channel partners for your content. What we’re seeing is a general trend from AR used for simple one-off moments to include experiences that instruct, inform and reward more as an everyday utility. More brands are looking to stop thinking about AR as a tactic and start thinking about how it fits into their overall business strategy as a facilitating technology.

This is where mobile WebAR is a potential game changer for a lot of brand owners. There will always be a place for apps. But there are only so many brands and services that can really command their own app on space on your homescreen. Mobile WebAR allows any brand to have a route to market on mobile for the mass market as big as the web itself. No app required. Browser support for AR across Safari and Chrome is currently in its infancy and it’s certainly the case that you can do more with AR through an app right now.

But for a lot of the more utilitarian and instructional opportunities for say CPG brands Mobile WebAR is becoming a viable option and means they can control the content and get first party data without being disintermediated through a social network and paying the medie fee for the privilege.


Final thoughts

Navigating the AR ecosystem in such a fast-evolving tech sector is not always easy, particularly when your business is seeking to unlock genuine value and separate the benefits from the jargon. You need to think clearly about how you build the right framework for your business based on these five layers of the AR ecosystem. This will allow you to deliver the best solution that will be robust, scalable, effective and efficient in the short, medium and long term. Our expert team, with over eight years of pioneering work within the AR space, is on hand to help you make the absolute most of this new era of spatial storytelling. This is something we’ve achieved with some of the world’s biggest brands across a vast array of sectors, from retail to product packaging to top-level sports - so if you’ve got an idea, get in touch and let’s bring it to fruition.

Our thoughts are summed up in our lovely, shareable infographic - available for you below. Why not spread the word on how to make the absolute most of AR for 2019?