Technology•Jul 12, 2022
Consumer vs. Enterprise Augmented Reality: Which Is Right for Your Business?
Is your business looking to break into augmented reality? Where do you start?
Are you building an enterprise solution, or targeting consumers directly? When it comes to augmented reality, what's the difference?
More than that, which approach is right for your business?
In this article, we'll pose four questions to help guide you toward understanding if your business is more suited to consumer or enterprise augmented reality (AR):
Who is benefitting from your solution?
Does your solution need to be hands-free?
Which is more important to you: interaction or integration?
What kind of developers do you have?
Who Is Benefitting From Your Solution?
Augmented reality can be used to solve many different types of problems.
An enterprise solution serves to improve business processes, while a consumer solution serves the end user.
Consider your business needs: Do you need to cut training costs? Are your subject matter experts spread too thin? You might use an AR training experience or remote virtual assistance to have your experts help more trainees while cutting travel costs.
Or on the consumer side: Do you struggle to convert shoppers into customers? Consider adding 3D augmented reality models for the shopper to view your product in their home.
Both enterprise and consumer AR can improve productivity, though for an enterprise solution the increase is directed toward improving the business. A business might implement an augmented reality training program to reduce errors, while a consumer might use a virtual ruler to measure the dimensions of a room.
Consumer solutions can also exist for enjoyment—Snapchat filters or AR games like Pokémon GO have introduced thousands of people to augmented reality experiences for the purpose of having fun.
Understanding your target audience is the first step to unlocking extraordinary AR experiences for them. The next step is to determine how your audience will use your solution.
Does Your Solution Need to Be Hands-Free?
An enterprise solution will usually run on a hands-free headset, while a consumer solution will usually run on a smartphone or tablet.
Because enterprise solutions are often focused on increasing productivity, it's important for the person to have their hands free. This means enterprise solutions are often using wearable devices like the HoloLens 2 or Magic Leap headsets that have robust hands-free options. Wearers of these devices can pick up and manipulate virtual objects with their hands or use eye tracking to select virtual menu options.
At the time of this writing, most consumer AR experiences happen on a phone. App integrations are more important than a hands-free experience, and the increase in availability of AR-enabled smartphones means a wider user base for your application.
There are rumors of consumer AR headsets coming from Meta and Apple in the next few years, opening up the hands-free experience to consumers, something that’s mostly restricted to enterprise right now. For the next several years, however, phones will remain the primary method for most people to experience augmented reality.
Naturally, a hands-free experience is unique when compared to one that isn’t. Determining whether your solution needs to be hands-free or not will therefore help guide your development efforts.
Which Is More Important to You: Interaction or Integration?
An enterprise solution allows for more interaction, while a consumer solution has better integration with existing apps.
The hands-free headsets used in enterprises means the wearer can interact with the world around them. They can continue with their normal work while having holograms assist them in their task. Or they can manipulate the holograms themselves, rotating or scaling them to get a better understanding of the task at hand.
Since most consumer solutions are built to be used on a phone, interaction happens through a touchscreen while the person’s hands are occupied holding the phone. People will typically go into an AR experience for a specific purpose—to visualize a piece of furniture in a room or to play a game—compared to the medium- to long-term use cases for an enterprise experience.
Consumer experiences can also be built into existing apps the customer already has installed—product visualization for a retailer's app or a measuring tool for a home improvement app. Enhancing a person’s existing workflow can be a powerful way to introduce them to augmented reality.
Knowing what’s more important—interaction or integration—is key to creating an AR solution that works for you.
What Kind of Developers Do You Have?
Both solutions need technologists familiar with game engines, while a consumer solution also needs mobile and web developers.
The game engines Unity and Unreal Engine are the most popular choices for developing augmented reality experiences, although others certainly exist.
Developers already experienced with these tools are going to be the most productive—and while it is possible to train existing web developers to use these engines, the skills don't translate one-to-one. Working in a three-dimensional space with animations and meshes and materials needs a remarkably different mindset than coding for the web.
Consumer AR solutions can also leverage game engines, but they have the added option of building native mobile solutions with ARKit for iOS and ARCore for Android. Android also supports WebXR, which enables web developers to bring augmented and virtual reality experiences to the web without a native app.
While iOS doesn't support WebXR at the time of this writing, it seems to be headed that direction—the iOS 15.4 beta adds experimental WebXR features, likely in preparation for Apple's rumored AR headset.
Consider your capabilities and what kind of resources you'll need to build the solution that fits your strategy. With the right team, you’ll unlock extraordinary results.
Why Does the Difference Matter?
So why is the difference between consumer and enterprise solutions important? The difference matters because knowing the answers for your business puts you in the right mindset before jumping into a solution. It affects your augmented reality strategy, narrows your focus, and sets you up to concentrate on the areas that matter.
Adding augmented reality as a business process or customer offering is a huge undertaking. But asking yourself the right questions will set you up for success.
If you’d like to start a conversation with leaders who have been there before, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.