• Jonathan Lee

Web AR vs Mobile App

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Given the latest advancements in web technologies it has opened up a new debate when developing augmented reality based experiences. Recent updates to web-browsers have really opened the door in the AR world. So is it better to build an AR experience using the web or via a native app?

In this post we will take a look at the two options and assess which is a better solution.

To provide some context - webAR is a relatively new development. Due to recent technology advancements it is now possible to create high fidelity augmented reality experiences via the web. Using native web browsers we can serve the AR experience allowing it to work across all platforms, devices, and mobile operating systems. Presently there are some minor restrictions with the type of experiences that can be achieved via the web but these will disappear as the technology improves.

Conversely, mobile apps have been around since the launch of the app store back in 2008. Until very recently augmented reality was restricted to mobile apps meaning we either had to integrate the content into a pre-existing app or create a bespoke app to house the experience. Whilst a mobile app provides greater control over the overall experience the perceived downside is that it introduces an element of friction for the user who needs to download the app. This extra step in the user journey can often limit engagement, which impacts the overall ROI for an AR based campaign.

In advertising in particular there is a huge demand from advertisers and agencies who are all looking to interact with users without having the friction of an app download. According to Techjury 67% of media planners and buyers want AR/VR ads in there digital marketing campaigns, but if a campaign is only going to run for a few weeks it is going to be difficult to generate a significant number of downloads in such a short space of time.

The obvious benefits of webAR within advertising in particular are frictionless access for consumers and the ability to host the content on the clients website, which helps them retain web traffic. It also allows advertisers to link directly to augmented reality content from online advertising and even opens up opportunities to run augmented reality experiences within digital display ads across a range of sites. Advertisers and agencies also have a huge desire to meet the user with a uniform experience across all platforms, devices, and OS, which is something the web enables us to do well.

At VI we have been fortunate to run a major AR campaign for a retail client in Sydney for the last two years, In 2018 we ran this campaign with a mobile app due to the fact that webAR technology was not advanced enough to handle the experience via a web browser, When we came to implementing the same campaign again in 2019 webAR technology was sufficiently advanced enough for us to create the same experience via the web and the results were obvious. In 2019 we saw a huge increase in unique and repeat engagement due to the removal of the barrier to entry. Shoppers simply had to visit a URL and scan markers to launch the AR experience - no need to visit the app store, download and app, register and then scan.

With all that said there are also a number of advantages in using mobile apps that are also worth considering. When releasing an app through a store its possible to control which devices the app can be installed on, but with the web you don’t have that control. It is also much easier to control how the experience looks when created within a mobile app versus the web - when building experiences via the web we have to account for number browsers, devices, operating systems and this number of variables presents challenges in developing the overall experience. Access to data and creating an engaged audience or community of users are other considerations. For a short campaign that is only going to last a few weeks perhaps a web based experience is preferable but for a platform or a game downloading an app is not necessarily the biggest deal,

When launching experiences globally we also need to keep in mind that in some emerging markets the internet is not as fast and or reliable as it is in more developed countries. This creates a need for having support for offline use, which is only available through a mobile app.

Taking all these points into consideration we can see that the solution really depends on the project. In some cases a mobile app is going to be the best way to engage your audience and reach your KPIs where as in others it will be via webAR. The great thing here is that we have options - which wasn't the case even just a few months ago.

If you are considering creating an augmented reality experience for any of your upcoming campaigns or projects and you would like advice or assistance please feel free to reach out to us at

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