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Revenues for the augmented and virtual reality markets are expected to reach a combined $143.3 billion by 2020, according to IDC, a global market intelligence firm. There is clearly much to gain for those that invest wisely in augmented reality (AR). 

As a small business owner, you may believe that emerging technologies are the exclusive playground of big, well-funded corporations. For instance, you may have experienced Patron’s snazzy AR app, which lets you journey to an hacienda and chat with bartenders. 

If you find yourself thinking, “Small companies can’t do that!” -- think again.

While mainstream news may make it seem like only Facebook, Apple, and other big tech players will benefit the most from the AR, the fact is small businesses can also get in on the action. Here’s how to build your own AR function for your business, including hiring coders and designers, and launching projects. 

Knowing how AR works

First, it’s important to understand how AR really works. As an article in Baseline, an information technology magazine, notes, “AR technology superimposes a computer-generated overlay on a user’s view of the real world.” 

So how do we execute this concept? 

CodeTiburon, a web and mobile development company, explains that “an AR-enabled device has software that recognizes a symbol, object, or image and adds relevant content so that we can see these layered visualizations as if they were real.”

An important distinction here is that AR doesn’t actually take you away from the real world. AR enriches—or perhaps more appropriately, augments—what’s in front of you by adding new layers of data. Think of AR as virtual reality and the real world mixed together. 
Understanding how you can benefit from an AR function
AR can accomplish numerous things for your business. With the right application of this technology, your business could enjoy the following benefits: 

  • More effective sales and marketing: Let’s go back to the Patron example. As Adrian Parker, vice president of marketing at Patrón Spirits, says, the AR app is “a very consistent process to what you would consider a sales funnel.” The app provides top-line data on customers, making it easier to pitch products through the app for sale on e-commerce platforms like Amazon and ReserveBar. 
  • A better customer experience: AR provides a more immersive experience for customers in nearly every industry. For example, when you go to a restaurant, you may discover that pictures on the menu don’t often match the reality. Kabaq 3D Food Technologies created an app that shows highly-realistic 3D models of menu selections, giving you the ability to view the food from different angles and zoom levels—and ultimately order the right dish. 
  • More efficient business processes: From enabling faster modeling in architecture and construction to checking emails without lifting a finger, AR can enhance efficiency for many types of tasks and across many industries. For instance, at manufacturing and warehouse firms, having to stop to look at instructions slows down work. AR glasses can project instructions so workers can perform tasks without having to step aside and consult directions. 

Getting the right team to build an AR function

You essentially have two options here: One, bring in your own team of coders and developers; or two, hire a professional agency. 

Making this decision is actually quite simple. 

If your company is in the tech industry or deeply connected to tech, you may want to hire your own in-house team. They will be able to offer ongoing support and product creation to ensure sustained success of the AR app, and by connection, the company, over time. 

Just keep in mind that software developer salaries are over $100,000 in the United States. If money is a concern, bringing talent on as contractors may be much more cost-effective.

If you run a company whose specialties don’t have much in common with AR app development, then hiring an agency may be advised. This way, you don’t have to deal with the costs and headache of finding the right specialists. 

However, the issue here may be communication and ensuring project quality. So, it’s vital to do your due diligence when looking for an agency, establish clear goals and expectations, and create transparent communication channels so the project moves along as expected. 

Managing your AR project while staying within budget

Costs to build an AR app can exceed $100,000 if you hire a professional company or bring on contract or full-time developers and designers. That includes writing the main code architecture, creating application design, and testing. Of course, how much you’ll spend depends a lot on the complexity of your AR app. As Marxent, an AR development company for retailers, states, “there is a spectrum of quality, service, options, and features that come into play when pricing an AR app,” and actual costs depend on your needs and preferences. 

Even so, if budget is a concern, there are numerous ways you can save money, including: 

  • Building with user-friendly tools: There are AR companies that offer do-it-yourself services, often free of charge or at a minimal subscription cost. Tools like Blippbuilder, a design tool that enables you to add a layer of interactivity to your printed materials and products, or Aurasma, an augmented reality platform that allows non-programmers the ability to create AR experiences, may actually be all you need. Just be aware that capabilities are limited with such tools and they may not deliver exactly what you want. 
  • Finding coders and developers directly: On sites like Upwork and Guru, you can quickly find AR coders and designers within your budget. You can gauge reviews from former clients, compare rates, and check out portfolios before making a decision. You can also search for specialists that meet your project’s specific needs, whether that be AR game development, AR browser development, or AR 3D viewing development. Arrange an interview to see if you can work well with them first, and perhaps start with a small task to see if they can satisfy your standards. 
  • Use a software development kit (SDK): SDKs simplify and streamline the coding phase, as you don’t have to write code from scratch. This enables your team of developers to get the product out faster (and therefore at lower costs). Some great options include Vuforia, arguably the world’s best AR platform, and Kudan, which is known for being faster than most frameworks. Compare options, as certain SDKs have functions others don’t, so you can find a suitable one for your AR project. 

Making sure your AR project goes as planned

By educating yourself about AR, how it works, and how to build an AR application, you’re off to a good start. The next step is to get the right team together. Use all your resources, including your personal network and freelancing platforms, to get the most suitable developers and designers. Hire an agency if you require more guidance and help managing the project. 

Before starting the AR project, establish a roadmap so you can clearly outline goals, expectations, and milestones. Communicate regularly during the project to address issues, concerns, and delays. Most importantly, though, don’t micromanage. If you’ve done your recruiting legwork and have assembled a great team, they’ll impress you with what they deliver if given the space to create. 

In the end, augmented reality stands to play an increasingly important role in our lives. By adopting the technology now for your company, you ensure you’re ready to not only succeed today, but also well into the future. 

About the Author(s)

 Ed  Sappin

Ed Sappin is the CEO of Sappin Global Strategies, which seeks to build the next generation of global innovators in emerging areas including bitcoin and the blockchain, space technology, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence. Previously, Ed Sappin was Director, Project Development for the alternative energy division of BP.

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Ed Sappin How Can Small Businesses Use Augmented Reality