About a month ago I made a decision that opened up more opportunities than I could have dreamed of at the time. I decided to spend a considerable sum of money on an iPhone 12 Pro, not a light decision for someone still living on a student budget! After being on Android for about a year Apple drew me back. What brought me in again? LiDAR, and Apple’s strong commitment to Augmented Reality.
As a UX designer at the beginning of my career I knew from the start of this tech-focused journey that I wanted to work in XR spaces. What I didn’t realize is that my first internship in the UX space would be helping to implement 3D e-commerce into an established companies product flow! I’m not quite ready to reveal the details of the internship yet, but I can tell you that it is exactly what I was hoping for when I started this exploration. If all goes well it will be the beginning of a long and interesting career in the world of XR!
I wanted to share a few of the apps I have been playing with, as elements of each of them helped get my work noticed. My journey to this point has mostly been one of play which has worked out quite well! In play I began bringing ideas to life that I was simply unable to before I bought Apple’s new hardware. Creating for XR was a dormant passion that was brought to the surface and my enthusiasm is very obvious to anyone I interact with. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means but I have learned a lot over this past month or so. I have a tendency when I enter a new field to learn nearly everything I can about it, and that has served me very well this time around.
No Code AR
My journey of exploration and learning to this point has largely facilitated by three no-code AR creation apps. I know a smattering of C# which is the primary coding language for Unity where I plan to eventually build out experiences, but I don’t know enough to start doing anything of depth. As a UX designer I wanted a way to quickly build out prototypes that worked well enough to get the message across while being easy enough to use that they didn’t hinder my creativity. Enter the no-code revolution that is sweeping across the technological landscape.
All the no-code AR apps listed here use some variation of visual scripting, basically a way to create actions in the XR environment by adjusting simple triggers. For example: making an object spin while it is being looked at in the scene, or running an animation when the object is tapped. My next aspiration in my no-code journey is to start developing in Unity using Bolt Visual Scripting which they acquired last year. The image below shows the visual logic flow of a basic action that would be translated to the Unity scene, and illustrates what most visual scripting looks like. Don’t worry though! The visual scripting of the three apps featured in this article are much less complicated than Bolt and only take a few minutes to learn the basics.
When I first got my new iPhone I immediately went on a deep dive to find ways to start creating AR experiences. I quickly discovered Apple’s Reality Composer (RC) and the depths they have gone to integrate AR into their ecosystem. RC is an incredibly easy way to dive into creating XR experiences and can be used either on a phone/tablet or on a mac desktop. One of the most amazing things about the most no-code apps like RC is that you don’t get just a limited development on mobile devices, you get access to all the same features you would have on a desktop setup! As you will see in the tutorial from Apple below, getting started is also incredibly easy.
In my current AR workflow RC is my default, my go to for when I just want to build something quick and have it work well. While playing I often want to just toss in an asset, build out a quick scene, and record a video on the spot. Many of my RC projects are completed in less than five minutes, and if I’m in a groove there are some scenes I can toss together in just a few seconds! This is why when done well, no-code apps are truly a revolution.
This is one of the first AR apps I made after getting into RC, made using simple image tracking and a screenshot of the product page for the (amazing) Neko playing cards. Very simple, but very compelling!
AR Image tracking experiment made with Reality Composer
Out of the three apps featured in this article Adobe Aero is the one I am the least familiar with. I have only spent a few hours playing with it so far, but luckily the basics are incredibly easy to pick up just like Reality Composer. Aero shines in a few circumstances.
First of all, if your all in on Adobe already this would be the obvious choice for a go-to app. The ease of importing other Creative Cloud assets into the app is as easy as you would expect it to be. Aero is also more robust in its manipulation of objects and motion within scenes, it is great for adding layers of complexity to projects and building beautiful and engaging projects. The video below is the best tutorial I have come across, it comes in four parts but is a great look at how robust a product Aero can be!
I don’t use Aero very much but i’m always ready to explore more! One thing it does that is allow for the use of videos and gifs which I feel is sorely lacking from RC. As you will see in the short video below, gifs are very important to me and particularly when they are of cats (notice a theme here). There are also boundless other possibilities with it and there is a robust collection of starter assets to play with. Out of the three, I think Aero likely has the lowest barrier to entry.
Video of gifs I made of my partner’s new rescue kitty
The most powerful app on this list, and my personal favorite is Minsar Studio. This app moves beyond simple experiences and allows the creator to build out full blow virtual spaces inside of their Oculus Quest headsets, or on their mobile devices. Their primary target is to build an excellent VR > AR workflow, so designing out AR experiences in VR then hosting them in Web XR for anyone to access. I plan to make a more detailed article/video on Minsar in the near future so I won’t be going into great detail here, but trust me when I say you should download it and start playing.
One major drawback currently is that there are quite a few bugs that need squashing on the mobile app and the Quest app lab version. The app is in its very early stages still and only came to app lab about a week ago and the developers tell me that a major update is imminent as soon as it is granted approval! That being said, the app is functional as is and experiences it allows creators to build out are quite extensive. There are a ton of features I would love to see added like a brush tool, better animation control, and more extensive scripting options. For now though, this is the best app to create the most detailed XR experiences in probably 1/10th the time it would take to do the same thing in Unity or similar platforms.
The tutorial below is one part of many, all are worth a watch if you want to get the most out of the app! It can be intimidating to start but again, just play!
I have been using Minsar to create a variety of experiences, including one that is primarily VR based. The biggest frustration for now is the lack of scene switching which means that there are few ways to link up one experience to another, but this is coming soon and it will radically change how I use the app. I absolutely love the ability to natively import Sketchfab Models into the app, though for now it is still pretty buggy and some models break down the experience or simply fail to load. That said, I have been so delighted to be able to import models like of the NASA space shuttle, make them gigantic, whip them around overhead, then make them fly all over the infinite room! I may have giggled to myself for a few minutes while doing so…
The example e-commerce setup below is a VR and AR. As mentioned above Minsar is primarily build around that VR > AR workflow. These two experiences do not mimic one another exactly, but the exploration of one led to the creation of the other. One can easily imagine being able to build out entire stores in the VR app and embed them on the web as is for others to view. Or, it is just as easy to imagine building a display rack of objects and having a QR code on an empty table lead you to view an interactive display inside of a physical store! I have only scratched the surface of this app so if you have more questions please do reach out!
These three apps are a great place to start if you are just starting to explore AR, but there are so many more ways to create out there! My best recommendation for anyone getting into the space is like I said earlier, just play!! Don’t worry about if things are perfect, just start creating and see where it takes you. Download new apps, mess with them, and create something delightful.
My favorite thing about designing in 3D spaces is that the options are literally limitless! Only your imagination can constrain you…ok and maybe the current bugs/limitations of the creations tools as well. Constraints tend to squeeze creativity out in me though and I have found that nearly anything can be made if you set my energies upon it! This next video is a bit of what I created during the week leading up to publishing this article, a blend of AR and VR but it shows more of what I have been able to build out using the apps above.