May 8, 2019 by Chris Ciligot
The end goal of mobile app development is to create a product that not only provides a solution to a problem but is effective and enjoyable to use. Chances are if your app provides an enjoyable user experience (UX) you’ll witness higher engagement and retention rates, which is important to your app growth strategy. Unfortunately, too many apps fail to maintain retention as reports suggest that on average, apps lose 77 percent of daily active users within the first three days of an install.
To continually improve the UX and design of apps, developers and designers are continuously working with brands to innovate and discover new ways to make apps more useful and engaging to target audiences.
If your brand is looking to improve its existing UX, or to boost engagement and retention, strategically implementing Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) technologies might be a viable option.
Apps like Ikea Place, and the smash hit from a few summers ago, Pokémon Go, have shown how these technologies can enhance UX by creating an immersive and personalized experience. This article will outline the differences between AR and VR technologies and discuss the enhancements they can bring to an app’s UX.
Skip to a Section:
- What is Augmented and Virtual Reality?
- User Experience (UX) Enhancements
- Can AR and VR make the UX worse?
- Final Thoughts
What is Augmented and Virtual Reality?
AR and VR are terms that are commonly interchanged despite being two different concepts. While both technologies aim to alter a user’s physical reality, how they do it is different. To put it simply, VR replaces your vision, while AR adds to it.
AR technology is designed for free movement while superimposing images over your surroundings. Apps use your phone’s camera to track your environment and overlay additional information on top. A perfect example of an app making use of AR technology is the Ikea Place app. The app allows users to envision how Ikea furniture would look in their living space. Select the piece of furniture you like, and the app places the piece of furniture in the area your camera is pointed in. You can probably already imagine how useful that is.
VR, on the other hand, is a fully immersive experience. The user becomes part of a virtual world and is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions. VR apps often require the use of a headset that focuses the user’s vision on their mobile device screen, blocking out their current surroundings. Examples of apps that make use of this technology include Virtual Speech and NYT VR. The latter in particular has turned standard journalism into an immersive experience by placing readers directly into news stories and subject matter.
User Experience (UX) Enhancements
Mobile UX is defined by the user’s perceptions and feelings before, during, and after their interaction with an app, ultimately influencing how users perceive a product. Users search for apps that provide value, are easy to use and help them achieve a goal. The difference between a good UX and a bad one is as simple as a user returning to your app or deleting it altogether.
Here are three enhancements AR and VR bring the UX, making it more efficient and enjoyable.
Reduced cognitive load
Cognitive load refers to the amount of energy required to learn, access and remember certain information. When it comes to UX, the more tasks or specific steps a user needs to complete to achieve a goal results in a higher cognitive load and contributes to a poor experience. Applying AR technologies to certain apps can help lower the cognitive burden of some users by simply taking care of tasks for them. Navigation apps are a perfect example. Using a handheld device for directions requires users to watch their smartphone screen, remember directions, and then look back to the real world and navigate their surroundings. With AR technology, the user can simply use an application that imposes virtual arrows and directions in real time and real dimension. Now the user can easily follow the arrows without having to look down and remember certain directions. This application would certainly lower the cognitive load for a driver, for example. This allows users to move information smoothly from one context to another making the experience of gathering necessary information less tasking and more enjoyable.
When purchasing furniture or clothes, It’s not uncommon for people to buy a product only to bring it home and realize it’s not what they had hoped for. By making use of AR technology, retailers like Ikea allow their customers to preview products in their own home before making a purchase or even going into a physical store. Clothing retailers have done something similar with apps such as Virtual Dressing Room, allowing customers to try on clothes by superimposing clothing items over their bodies without having to change. This gives them confidence in choosing a product that suits their needs. The end result is a significantly lowered return rate, and a more satisfied customer and user. Chances are if the app helped them make the right purchase the first time, they will use it again.
First person perspective
Currently, users experience most apps from a third person perspective because of the distance that is present between the user and the device. By utilizing VR technology, apps can offer users a first-person perspective which completely changes the experience. Eliminating the distance between user and device, VR technology places the user at the forefront of the experience, allowing them to interact as him or herself and feel as though they are somewhere they aren’t. Interacting with an app in the first person requires the user to become involved, allowing things to feel real, motivating engagement, and sparking curiosity. Not only does this lead to a better understanding of the content and information presented, but it allows the user to feel a true connection. After all, why read about an event when you can experience it for yourself.
Can AR and VR make the UX worse?
While AR and VR technologies enhance the user experience, there are drawbacks to using this technology. Firstly, it’s expensive. Because these technologies – specifically VR – require the use of headsets and goggles, the software and development that is required to make the technology function as it should, lead to higher costs for both consumers and those developing.
In regards to UX, AR and VR technologies can cause adverse effects on health. This is largely due to the way users interact with this technology. Having to wear a headset — a drawback in itself — that restricts and replaces your field of vision with animated 3D objects for prolonged periods of time can cause dizziness, eye strain, and sickness. None of these ailments contribute to a positive UX.
A good mobile app not only makes life simpler for its users but also makes them feel positive about using the app. Implementing AR and VR technologies into app design presents developers and designers with an opportunity to create a more immersive and personalized UX, resulting in a more engaged user.
While these technologies come with their drawbacks, it is important to remember that although not new, this technology is still in its infancy in regards to how it’s utilized. As advancements continue to be made, you can expect to see these technologies appear in different applications.