A big reason for the success of (almost) all things Apple-related is the company’s constant focus on the user experience. This is especially important with their mobile phones, explaining why the release of the iPhone Xattracted worldwide attention. While the device does have some expected updates, it also has a feature that’s definitely attracting the attention of UX design experts — augmented reality that’s part of the devices’ operating system. How this particular feature will ultimate impact UI design and user experience has yet to be officially determined. That said, here’s a closer look at what the technology is and how Apple’s AR engine may affect UX designers.
Defining Augmented Reality
Surprisingly, augmented reality isn’t as new as you might think. By definition, it’s a computational technology that involves modifying a captured image. Additional visual elements can then be added to that image. These “enhancements” may include some text added within the image, or parts of the original image itself may be highlighted, modified, or even removed to create a different reality. In other words, it’s essentially an edited version of the actual image.
If you’ve ever watched a football game where they mark the first-down line on your screen (e.g., it looks like it’s marked right there on the field in real time even though it’s only there on your TV screen), then you’ve seen this technology in action. The same concept has been applied to things like the graphics used during the weather segments on many local stations and popular games like Pokemon Go, where an user’s real environment suddenly becomes populated by Pokemon.
Bringing AR to the Mainstream
What Apple is doing with the iPhone X is bringing this technology into the mainstream on smartphones and tablets. Up until the debut of iPhone X, a UX designer or developer who wanted to use this type of technology would have to build the capabilities directly into the mobile app, which could quickly become time-consuming and expensive, especially for a startup with a limited budget.
Without a shared engine with the ability to display the altered images/visuals, visual and interactive patterns will vary with each app that has the technology incorporated into its design. What Apple’s new AR-based engine does is provide a platform that can be used to deliver a consistent UX from one application to another since the technology will no longer have to be built into each specific application.
Avoiding the Temptation to Crank Out New Apps Quickly
AR’s potential across all markets and industries has yet to be determined or defined. However, with Apple’s new engine, there’s always the potential for startups and designers to take advantage of this technology and crank out a product as quickly as possible simple to be first out of the gate. The risk here is producing poorly designed apps that produce equally poor augmented or virtual reality experiences, which could result in big headaches for both established brands and startups.
Forty percent of apps are uninstalled within an hour of installation and nearly 1 in 4 people abandon apps after a single use, primarily because of UX issues.It’s also critical for UX designers to be mindful of potential security and privacy issues with any data that will be shared via apps with AR-related capabilities. As with any application, first impression is everything. It’s ultimately an app’s initial impression on users that will determine:
• How well users trust the application
• Whether or not they will continue to use it
• What type of feedback they will provide (online “word of mouth” can have a big impact on an app’s success or failure)
Figuring Out AR’s Long-Term Potential
It’s been predicted that AR’s market value may eventually get to nearly $200 billion within the next few years. Pokemon Go was a runway hit, but does it really have long-term potential, or will it end up being a passing fad like Beanie Babies and digital pets? Only time will tell.
So, what does this mean for UX designers? It basically means designers, developers, and everyone else on the startup team will need to constantly monitor stats and encourage user feedback. It’s likely that changes will need to be made with graphic design and interface features over time to accommodate preferences. And new capabilities will need to be added as AR-based technology becomes more accessible and advances and improves beyond where it’s at right now.
Many of the successful apps that have proven to have staying power periodically make adjustments to meet user expectations and preferences. The same thing will be true of anything that’s AR-related. There have been many apps that come out of the gate strong only to fizzle out. UX designers need to think about long-term potential and consider any application they create as a constant work in progress.
Determining How Much Value Can Be Added to the UX
A mobile app is only going to be effective in terms of convincing people to keep using it if offer real value. This is also true of any application that will incorporate AR-related technology into the UI design. Let’s say you come up with this application that will allow users to scan any room and get measurements for furniture. It’s not going to have a lot of value for users if they’re just going to get out the measuring tape to verify the results after using it.
No UX designer can predict with absolute certainty how users will respond to their creation. Something that may seem to have great value in the design phase may not be a hit with users not willing to trust whatever results are provided. The solution is to test, re-test, and keep testing. The same is true with anything that will include AR-related technology. Designers and developers looking to maximize their return on investment may want to consider:
• Developing an MVP (minimum viable product) that can be used to collect information on how users are interacting with the application
• Testing different variations with how AR-related technology is used for comparison purposes to see what users naturally gravitate towards
• Making appropriate adjustments if it becomes clear that an application isn’t offering much value
• Working with the team members in charge of marketing to produce online content that emphasizes the potential value of a new product with AR-related capabilities before it fully launches
Getting an Opportunity to Shape User Expectations
A UI designer isn’t likely to have access to a lot of data to figure out exactly how users prefer to use an augmented form of reality. The fact is most people aren’t familiar with this technology, even if they’ve already seen it applied during a football game or in a game app. This means most people aren’t sure how they could benefit from it, or even what they expect or want from it.
Now that there’s an OS that’s making an enhanced form of reality easily accessible for more people, UX designers now have the opportunity to shape expectations for users. Apple is a master at this, too. Before the iPod came out, most people didn’t know they had a desire to carry their personal music collection around with them. And how many people actually thought they “needed” a tablet computer before the iPad debuted? Designers have to ask themselves questions like:
• What user need can I fulfill?
• What is the problem (real or perceived) I’m trying to solve? (the user’s pain point)
• Can I realistically use AR-based technology to solve that problem?
• Is there another way that users are already finding a solution of that problem, and is my AR-related solution better?
Taking User Preferences Into Consideration
Remember when Google Glass was all the rage when they came out in 2014? No? Well, that’s why the product was discontinued after just two years. Why? Because most people didn’t want to interact with technology in a way that was that up close and personal while trying to navigate through their real world environment.
The reality is that most people still prefer to interact with technology through keyboards, mouse clicks, and taps on screens. Designers who try to drastically alter these behaviors will be fighting an uphill battle. The lesson to be learned here is that a UX designer must:
• Account for user preferences with how they interact with technology
• Not force users to radically change their behaviors in order to access new technology (e.g., having to wear glasses or mount phones on your face)
• Go beyond thinking about what’s possible and focus on what users will actually accept
It’s not unusual for Apple to raise the bar when it comes to UX design. And AR certainly has a lot of potential. With graphic design alone, real images on mobile apps can become customized without the need to build the technology into the application. It will also be less expensive for a startup to create an app that can take advantage of the possibilities to create a better user experience. A creative UX or UI designer might very well come up with a clever way to incorporate the technology into the user interface. It’s really an user’s experience that adds appeal to mobile apps anyway, so maybe developers and UX designers should give a collective “thank you” to Apple for providing an added incentive to get creative with what’s in our real environment.