In partnership with Nintendo, Niantic Labs created an augmented reality (AR) app, Pokemon Go, that is responsible for raising Nintendo’s stock and adding $7.5 billion to the company. Just two days after it was released on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store, the app surpassed Tinder in downloads and Twitter in daily active users.

Immersive media like this has disrupted the industry, and the unexpected success of Pokemon Go is indicative of the popularity of this latest tech trend. According to Virgin, Digi-Capital released its forecast for AR and virtual reality (VR), predicting that the market will grow to $150 billion by 2020, $120 billion of which is contributed solely to AR.

The AR app phenomenon is penetrating the mobile industry and making AR available to any user with a mobile device, from smartphones and tablets to wearables and game consoles. This presents a wide variety of exciting opportunities for software developers and other tech professionals.

Augmented Reality Apps

To get a better understanding of what AR is, examining its history is a good place to start. According to TechTarget, Thomas Caudell of Boeing came up with the term “augmented reality” in 1990 as a way to explain “how the head-mounted displays that electricians used when assembling complicated wiring harnesses worked.” The yellow “first down” line that appears in broadcast football games is a popular example of the practice, as well as one of the first commercial uses of AR technology, TechTarget states. The basics of AR technology now appear in industries like public safety, health care, marketing and more.

AR is defined as “the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time,” taking the user’s current environment and overlaying new information. AR applications are written in 3-D programs, which enable developers to add animation and other digital information to “markers” in the real world.

“When a computing device’s AR app or browser plug-in receives digital information from a known marker, it begins to execute the marker’s code and layer the correct image or images,” TechTarget says. In most cases, AR apps use smartphone GPS capability and compass technology to identify the user’s location and orientation. This collision of the digital world and the world we live in allows the user to access digital information and images alongside everyday objects and locations. AR connects us with the digital world in unprecedented ways, with a relevance in daily life that is allowing AR to edge out VR in the marketplace, according to Virgin.

Augmented Reality Companies in the Mobile Industry

Pokemon Go utilizes this technology by letting players catch, battle and train virtual Pokemon creatures that appear in their neighborhoods and even homes. Its audience has shifted from being primarily male to being evenly split between genders, and 25- to 34-year-olds are the predominant age group, according to data reported by VentureBeat. Sixteen percent of players surveyed said they play for more than four hours a day, which is significant considering both age group and gender.

The viral popularity of Pokemon Go suggests the AR market is taking off. The game leverages nostalgia and affordability, making the AR platform more accessible to the average user. Though companies like Microsoft and MagicLeap have AR headset projects in the works, they are far from market-ready. So for now, smartphone AR games are the most intelligent way for companies to capitalize on this trend. Among the options in app stores is Sky Guide, a space exploration app that won an Apple Design Award in 2014. Field Trip is an AR smartphone tourist app created by Niantic. It is designed to focus user attention on the culture, food and attractions in cities. And then there’s Ingress, yet another Niantic creation. It’s an open-world AR capture-the-flag gaming experience.

As more and more AR apps are developed, competition will increase and technology will improve. With more people worldwide using smartphones than ever before, it’s clear that there is a market for these apps. Smartphones offer quick, portable access to AR experiences. According to Amplify, “The rise of an intelligent social web is creating a disruptive new force in business as public appetite for immersive computing grows,” which is driving AR into the spotlight. And as Anyline puts it, “The fast adoption of new technologies combined with economic growth will drive forward innovation in the mobile sector.” Companies and tech professionals now have the opportunity to create immersive, user-focused end products.

“It makes internal workings of humans or product, more immediate, more educated and present in decision making” 

-Scott O’Brien, Expert AR Developer

The Benefits of Immersive Media

AR offers benefits beyond gaming. Tourism, education and e-commerce are just a few industries where mobile AR experiences are expected to make a real impact. AR expert Scott O’Brien told Amplify that health care professionals can utilize AR technology to improve patient outcomes as well. “It makes internal workings of humans or product, more immediate, more educated and present in decision making. The use of AR eyewear for surgeons will enable them to … [reduce] fatigue, mistakes, and has for years assisted junior doctors and nurses understanding simulated procedures,” he said.

In high-density areas like sports stadiums and shopping centers, wearable mobile computing with AR technology “improves navigation, helps locate friends or colleagues, and presents relevant factual information,” according to Amplify. And automotive companies like Audi and Volkswagen have launched AR apps that function as digital manuals and real-time troubleshooting tools. As more companies experiment with developing applications using AR, even more potential uses will be discovered and introduced. As Virgin puts it, AR “can be applied in every aspect of the world whether it’s cooking dinner or giving a presentation at work.”

Augmented Reality Development

When it comes to developing AR apps, software developers use skills related to image processing to develop apps that can track markers or features in the real world. According to Waracle, “If you’re using computer software to generate images, it’s fundamental that the images in question look realistic and credible from the users’ perspective … failure to develop an authentic UI/UX will result in an augmented reality app that’s very difficult to use and provides little value for the end consumer.” Developing an app that’s seamless and intuitive increases the likelihood of success among competitors in the app store.

In addition to image processing, traditional mobile development skill sets and a complete understanding of the app development process are key. Other competencies include 3-D modeling, computer vision and imaging. Waracle notes that the preferred programming languages for most AR app development projects are C# and C++. Developers who have already mastered these languages are prepared to work on a wide variety of AR app projects. AR products like DroidAR, Wikitude SDK and ARLab SDK make the development process easier, with most tools allowing development across platforms, though some specialize in certain platforms and integrations.

AR app development provides an exciting opportunity for software developers to get in on this rapidly growing and lucrative market. The potential uses for AR are varied and novel, and qualified developers can benefit from this in-demand trend as a way to combine skills related to mobile app development with the innovation that AR technology represents.

The Software Guild and Development Opportunities

The Software Guild gives junior programmers the chance to learn some of the skills involved in developing AR applications, as well as access to an employer network with connections to resources and potential job opportunities. Our coding bootcamp prepares you for entry-level developer positions. You can learn about The Software Guild, our curriculum, program options and more here.

Coding bootcamps such as The Software Guild offer an outcomes-focused, intensive learning environment for those interested in programming careers.