Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have seen tremendous popularity in recent years. Their commercial, educational, and other applications are seemingly endless, as they evolve in tandem with the continuous digitization of business. However, the two differ notably in concept and effect. Moreover, creating and using AR content can present a challenge for website owners. Thus, let us devote this article to exploring how to develop and add AR content to a website.

 

Defining AR content

First and foremost, let us define AR as an introduction to AR content. AR, as the name suggests, is an interactive experience where computer-generated stimuli augment real-world objects. Typically, especially in commercial uses, these stimuli will be visual and auditory, projecting objects and sounds, respectively. However, AR may also affect other senses.

 

An illustration of AR assets overlayed over a person on a laptop screen

The essence of AR lies in overlaying information over the physical world.

 

In all cases, AR will add perceptual information to the user’s experience of the natural environment. For this reason, AR’s frequent synonyms in everyday use are mixed reality (MR) and computer-mediated reality. Regarding the latter, Huffington Post identifies the first instance of AR in Ivan Sutherland’s 1968 head-mounted display system.

Since 2013, AR was already rigidly defined as a system that fulfills 3 key features:

  1. A combination of the natural environment with virtual assets
  2. The capability for real-time interaction
  3. An accurate 3D registration of both natural and virtual objects

It is this combination of the real and the virtual, then, that best defines AR and diversifies it from VR. Indeed, VR seeks to replace reality completely, while AR seeks to augment it. While the two may overlap, having blurred dividing lines at times, this is their fundamental difference. To add AR content to a website, website owners will typically seek to augment, not replace, the users’ existing experience.

 

AR and SEO

Moreover, AR overlaps with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – a notable fact for website owners. Indeed, AR content will enhance common on-page metrics, such as time on page and engagement, boosting SEO campaigns. However, it is worth noting that website speed is an important factor for your ranking as well. Therefore, SEO practitioners will need to ensure that their AR content doesn’t hamper responsiveness or increase loading times.

 

The USDZ format

Finally, before delving into how to add AR content to a website, let us briefly touch on the USDZ format. The acronym stands for Universal Scene Depiction standard and is generally the standard for adding AR capabilities to 3D content. In Apple’s case, USDZ files replaced .reality and .rcproject files, as well as custom code in this regard.

This format is crucial to note since AR capabilities for iOS and MacOS devices will rely on it. Google made its own strides toward AR, relying on Chrome Canary and ARCore, but USDZ remains the gold standard today. As such, as we’ll explain below, it is crucial that your 3D modeling software offers this export option. Conversely, you will need a converter for standard file formats like OBJ, STL, and glTF.

 

Adding AR content to a website

With all of the above in mind, then, let us explore our main subject. In essence, adding AR content to a website requires the following:

  • 3D models in USDZ format
  • A functional, AR-capable website
  • An embed and modification option

Thus, let us follow the process step by step.

1. Create a 3D model

Initially, you will need to create your 3D models. Any 3D modeling software solution will do for this step, but for this example, we’ll use Vectary for two reasons:

  1. Vectary offers the option to export models as USDZ, and
  2. It can convert existing .obj, .stl, .dae, .glb and .glTF files to USDZ

Using Vectary, you may create or open your 3D model of choice. Then, on the right, you may choose export options, including file format and maximum texture size. Once you export it, Vectary will send you a link to download your final file. There, it will also provide a code to embed the AR viewer on your website. Copy this to your clipboard, and you may proceed to the next step.

Should you use other 3D modeling software for this step, you may still use Vectary or other converters to produce a USDZ file. In these cases, the process should remain roughly the same, in that you should be presented with a similar code. Copying and pasting said code onto your website’s HTML code should thus let you add AR content to a website.

Alternative 3D modeling software

In case you’d rather use other 3D modeling software to create and add AR content to a website, you may consider such solutions as the following.

SketchUp

A very famous browser-based option on the field, SketchUp offers power and flexibility. It boasts a smooth learning curve and a vast library of user-generated models. It does vary across its free and premium versions, but even the free variant offers notable value.

Meshmixer

A similarly user-friendly, common option, Meshmixer offers a heavier focus on 3D printing. Still, it provides all functionalities beginners will need, from sculpting tools to model analysis and optimization tools.

Blender

An equally famous option, enough so that it has seen use by Hollywood, Blender is immensely popular. Its unique interface may pose an initial challenge, but it too comes with considerable power and versatility. Moreover, it is free, and it’s followed by an engaged, supportive community.

FreeCAD

Unlike the above, FreeCAD is likely a more complex solution for beginners to pick up. Nonetheless, this open-source solution offers 3D and 2D modeling tools, as well as a wealth of modules, plugins, and tools. As the name suggests, it, too, is free.

Leopoly

Finally, like Meshmixer, Leopoly primarily focuses on 3D printing. It is, however, both potent and extremely easy to learn, as it was explicitly designed by zSpace for educational purposes. Moreover, this browser-based solution’s accompanying ShapeLab VR modeling tool makes it distinctly AR-friendly.

 

2. Convert your 3D model to USDZ

Next, you will need to convert your 3D model to USDZ if it isn’t already. Here, you have a few different options – but, for the sake of text economy, let us highlight 3.

Vectary

As we highlighted above, even if you don’t use it for 3D modeling, Vectary offers conversion options. The process is relatively simple:

  • Open the Vectary editor
  • Drag and drop your 3D file
  • In the Export tab, choose to export it as USDZ

Reality Converter

Apple’s Reality Converter offers an extremely simple USDZ converter for Mac devices. The instructions, in their own words, are as simple as “drag-and-drop, modify, and export”:

“Simply drag-and-drop common 3D file formats, such as .obj, .gltf, and .usd, to view the converted USDZ result, customize material properties with your own textures, and edit file metadata.”

Xcode

Finally, Xcode offers a similarly simple solution:

  • Open your file in Xcode
  • Go to File>Export
  • Choose the file type .usdz

Alternatively, in Xcode 11 and Xcode 12, you may use the usdzconvert command in Terminal. This Python script converts the following file formats to USDZ:

  • .obj
  • .gltf
  • .fbx
  • .abc
  • .usda
  • .usdc
  • .usd

To use it, you will simply need to go to Terminal and use the following command:

usdzconvert ~/Desktop/file.obj

Do note, however, that you will need Apple’s AR Creation Tools to add AR content to a website in this way.

3. Build your website

With your USDZ assets in hand, you may now build your website to add it to. If you already have a website, you may safely skip this step. Otherwise, among other Content Management System (CMS) and vendors, you may consider 4 of the most prominent ones to begin.

All of the options below will offer simple, hassle-free website creation tools with ready-to-use templates. Thus, for the sake of text economy, we will only briefly delve into their respective website creation processes.

WordPress

WordPress is likely the most famous CMS today. Since its inception in 2003, it has evolved into a powerful, flexible CMS that powers:

  • 40% of the Internet
  • 64% of all CMS-built websites
  • 28% of all eCommerce websites

Its vast potential through its architecture and plugin library aside, WordPress also offers a simple website creation process. They tagline their build process as a “no code, no manuals, no limits” one, providing a vast array of themes to choose from. You may “design without a designer”, as their editors offer single-click and drag-and-drop modifications, or delve into coding for personalization. Thankfully, its popularity also incentivized such agencies as WP Full Care, which can further enhance web design and optimization.

A WordPress dashboard showing the option to add a new post

WordPress is arguably the most prominent CMS today.

 

SquareSpace

SquareSpace is a similarly famous website building and hosting vendor. Its website building process is similarly simple, being template-based while allowing for customization. They distill it down to 3 steps:

  • Choose your website template
  • Secure a custom domain name
  • Start adding your own content

Finally, their press coverage notes that “Squarespace offers analytics, SEO, e-commerce, custom domains, and social media integrations” for added versatility.

WIX

Similarly, WIX offers a very viable alternative to the above. Its website creation platform is equally accessible and user-friendly, offering over 500 customizable templates to choose from. Simultaneously, the WIX editor offers creative freedom for power users to start from scratch and create a personalized website.

Notably, WIX also comes with built-in tools for added functionality that include:

  • Online scheduling software
  • A logo maker
  • SEO tools

Shopify

Finally, Shopify is arguably the most famous vendor for eCommerce websites and online stores. Its website creation options offer the following:

  • Over 70 eCommerce templates
  • A wealth of customization options through the Theme Settings editor
  • A simple templating language, Liquid, for custom themes

Moreover, Shopify offers web design support through Shopify Experts; “Shopify-approved ecommerce designers, developers and marketers”.

4. Embed the AR USDZ files to the website

With the previous steps covered, you may now add AR content to a website you have created. The process is fairly simple; you will just need to add your USDZ assets’ code into its HTML code. The process will vary slightly across platforms but is fundamentally similar.

WordPress

For WordPress sites, you will first need to upload your USDZ files to your media library or server. You will then need to add the following code to its link:

<a href=”http://example.com/file.usdz” rel=”ar”>

<img src=”http://example.com/image.jpg”>

</a>

For a simpler process, you may use such AR plugins as AR for WordPress. If you use WooCommerce specifically, you may consider AR for WooCommerce or CartMagician.

SquareSpace

Embedding AR content to SquareSpace is similarly simple. You will just need to add a code block to your page design and paste your USDZ code there. That is all it takes to add AR content to a website that’s powered by SquareSpace.

Notably, however, you may adjust its width and height in the code, but not the image of the AR object. To do so, you would need to modify it in your 3D modeling tool before exporting it.

WIX

Perhaps predictably by now, WIX also offers a simple embed process. As above, you will need to copy the embed code of your 3D model, then add an HTML box to your website and paste it there.

As above, you will need to modify its image in your 3D modeling tool.

Shopify

Finally, Shopify allows users to upload 3D models directly from the Products page. Moreover, Shopify also supports the GLB format and offers options for conversions to USDZ. You may thus easily add AR content to a website powered by Shopify since it does the heavy lifting.

Conversely, you may choose to use such Shopify apps as HoloNext AR Viewer.

 

Examples of AR use

Finally, much like CRM solutions, AR content sees use in multiple different ways – on or outside of websites. To conclude this article, let us explore some such uses for various purposes to solidify AR’s potential.

A smartphone showing a Charizard in the Pokemon Go game

Perhaps the most notable use of AR for gaming lies in Niantic’s Pokemon Go game.

 

#1 Toyota

Starting with an example from the automotive industry, Toyota launched the Hybrid AR app with agency Brandwidth in 2019. The app allows viewers to overlay motors, exhaust systems, batteries, and other internal components onto physical vehicles. In turn, each such component provides additional information on the viewer’s request, adding to the acquisition’s experience.

In 2017, AUDI used similar technology to augment the customer experience. They offered VR car test drives at select dealerships, allowing customers to engage with vehicles in customizable lighting and weather. In much the same way as Toyota’s AR app, this initiative provided a new, stimulating way for customers to engage with vehicles. Nils Wollny, Head of Digital Business Strategy and Customer Experience at AUDI AG at the time, noted that “[VR car tests offer] our customers more information and certainty when making their purchasing decision, as well as a special excitement factor.”

 

#2 IKEA

Similarly, in terms of retail, IKEA launched the IKEA Place app in 2017. The app allows customers to see assembled furniture within their living space, building on its catalog app’s 3D function concept. The rendered objects boast a notable 98% depiction accuracy and react to real-world factors like lighting. Moreover, it only requires an AR-capable smartphone to provide this experience.

As the promotional video highlights, this application of AR technology prevents issues with miscalculated furniture dimensions. Problem-solving aside, this kind of visual engagement intends to augment the pre-purchase phase with a fun factor. In turn, this specifically addresses the industry’s cart abandonment challenge, where deliberation and uncertainty deter purchases.

 

#3 Disney

Moving to a different audience and industry, Disney developed a 3D coloring book app in 2015. This application of AR technology allows children to see 3D-rendered characters in a strong juxtaposition to static, 2D models. Moreover, the app renders the models in real-time as they’re being colored, exciting the users and captivating their imagination.

This application of AR likely sees fewer commercial uses than other examples of this list. Moreover, it’s arguably not as innovative, since the concept has existed for years. It is, however, another strong testament to the technology’s potential, and it does offer recreational and educational uses.

 

#4 Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

On the subject of educational uses for AR, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History showcased one such example in 2015. Specifically, it used a “large-screen Broadcast AR augmented reality system” to project dinosaurs for visitors young and old.

Through AR, visitors experience faithful depictions of dinosaurs, accompanied by auditory stimulants for more immersion. While the level of interaction it provides is still fairly limited, it does offer a stark upgrade from 2D drawings. Moreover, as AR advances, it holds the potential to enhance the experience further through such stimulations as smells and touch.

 

#5 The U.S. Army

Finally, on a much more practical application of AR, the U.S. Army itself uses it. It showcased an example of this use in 2017, with the accompanying article tracing its roots to 2008. In this case, AR-powered a heads-up display that increases the troops’ spatial awareness.

How it achieves this goal is by overlaying “sensor imagery with integrated mapping, navigation and 3D surface models”. This advantage, they say, allows for “greatly enhanced operational maneuver and fires” and “enhances survivability in dangerous operations”. Understandably, this tactical use of AR faces challenges regarding logistics and availability, but it does hold exceptional potential.

 

Conclusion

To summarize, adding AR content to a website is a generally simple process. You will need AR content in the USDZ format and its embed code in hand. Depending on your website, there are slightly different methods to embed and modify it, but the fundamentals remain the same. Simultaneously, as technology advances, the process can only become simpler – while AR’s applications can only expand.

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