Native AR versus Web AR. Which is for me?

So what exactly are we comparing?

When starting a project, one of the first questions you need to answer is, “What platforms will we support?” In the case of augmented reality, that question carries a lot of weight. Augmented reality platforms have varying uptake and capabilities. These qualities can have a significant impact on both revenue and costs. In this post, we are going to focus on AR for smartphones and tablets. If you are considering AR for headsets, you have more to consider than what’s covered here. So when should you choose native AR versus web AR?

What do you already have?

This first and primary deciding factor is going to be, “What do I already have?” This question applies not only to augmented reality but to apps in general. If you are building a new feature into an existing application, you should target your feature to your platforms. Does your app run only on iOS? You would need to support iOS. Granted, it’s still possible to reevaluate the application as a whole to broaden or narrow support as you see fit. If you are building a new product from scratch, you have more freedom in your decision-making process.

Man opens an iPhone simulator on a laptop usning Xcode

Native AR

Apps have been popular among consumers for as long as smartphones have been around. The App Store, Google Play, Amazon App Store, and even Galaxy Store provide consumers with a centralized source of downloading apps to their phones. These apps “run natively,” meaning they run directly on the CPU of the device. As opposed to running in a browser.

Plaforms

Both iOS and Android provide an augmented reality platform. On the Apple side, we have ARKit. It is available going back to some pretty old devices, including iPhone SE (1st generation) and iPod touch 7th generation. On Android, ARCore is made available through the Google Play Services to supported phones and tablets. When you download an AR app on a supported device, ARCore will download in the background, enabling AR functionality. With so many Android devices, Google has a list available of supported devices.

Advantages of Native AR

  1. Performance
    Augmented reality is a resource-intensive feature, no getting around it. Many devices allocate specific amounts of resources to AR apps to account for this. Browsers have additional overhead compared to native apps. As a result, native apps have more resources available to them.
  2. Advanced Rendering
    Native apps have direct access to a device’s graphics processing unit or GPU for short. The graphics processing unit is responsible for drawing things to the screen. Browsers don’t have access to all of it. Native apps can use the full potential of the GPU, resulting in better-looking experiences.
  3. Access to platform-specific features
    Some applications require access to specific hardware, like the LIDAR on iPhones and iPads, to provide their features. These platform-specific features are not available through browsers. Browser APIs are general purpose and don’t provide access to specific hardware functionality. By building a native app, you gain access to this hardware.
Icons of several web browsers viewed on a iPhone screen

Web AR

Web augmented reality is a broad category. It includes any AR experience delivered through a web browser, even ones relying on browser-specific functionality.

Browser Functionality

Browsers these days have a lot of functionality built into them. They can do more than look up cat videos and social media. The web as a platform is very capable of running full-featured apps. WebXR is a draft web standard to bring augmented reality and virtual reality content to the web. Unfortunately, it’s not widely available enough to recommend use for AR as of yet. The VR portion, however, is ready to use in specialized circumstances.

Until WebXR is more developed, we still have options for augmented reality content. Mobile browsers have non-standard technologies available to view AR content. On iOS and iPad, we have AR Quick Look, and on Android, we have Scene Viewer. Both of these provide a lot of functionality out of the box. But you are also limited to the features provided.

Advantages of Web AR

  1. Low user friction
    Your users never have to download an app. That allows your users to begin using the experience sooner. By providing the experience directly on the web, your users can skip downloading an app and get straight to the content.
  2. Faster and cheaper to launch
    By building on web technologies, you can launch features and updates faster. The web uses standardized languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that work across all devices. Native apps, on the other hand, need to be customized for each platform. By developing for the web, you can spend less time on platform-specific development and more time on broad support.

Summary

Overall, when considering native AR versus web AR, one isn’t always better than the other. Each has its advantages which are going to apply differently based on your use case. It’s going to be primarily influenced by your existing functionality. If your product is already available on both native and web, you should consider launching AR on both. New products could use this comparison. Generally, simple AR experiences, like product visualization, should be available on the web. While more complex ones, like full home design apps, should target native.


Frame Push builds augmented and virtual reality apps, web apps, and experiences to help your business succeed. Contact us to integrate our expertise into your plan.