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Apple publishes guidelines to help developers build great AR apps

The publication of Apple’s Augmented Reality Human Interface Guidelines comes shortly before the anticipated release of iOS 11. The next version of the mobile operating system will being Apple’s ARKit platform to millions of iPhone users worldwide, giving them their first glimpse of augmented reality.
Apple wants these initial experiences to run smoothly. First impressions matter so any poorly designed ARKit apps risk jeopardising the entire ecosystem. The design guidelines address some of the problems that could occur, helping developers make sure their app meets the standards.
According to Apple, the most important thing is to reserve the display for the virtual world. This means using as few on-screen controls as possible to keep the world and objects covering the screen. Adding too much clutter could distract the user or cause them to lose focus on the world, creating a sense of being overwhelmed.
Apple advised developers to gradually introduce different virtual reality features. Capabilities such as motion shouldn’t necessarily be expected in a first-run experience. The user first has to adapt themselves to physically being in the world, before they start to explore complex elements. Movement can then be progressively encouraged. This can be likened to first-run tutorials in apps and games where different menu buttons become available over time.
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Another important facet of AR apps is user feedback. Sounds, vibrations and animations help to keep the user engaged and offer a deeper connection to the virtual world. Contact between objects, whether virtual or physical, can be signalled by using sounds or creating a bumping or knocking sensation using haptic feedback.
Above all, Apple cautioned developers to be mindful of user comfort. Holding a device at a distance for prolonged periods of time could be tiring, causing users to exit the app and possibly be reluctant to return. Integrating intentional periods of downtime, such as information screens between levels in a game, could encourage users to stay engaged for longer.
Similarly, developers need to consider the safety of the user. AR apps may sometimes be launched in an unsuitable environment, such as on an uneven floor surface or in a very small area. In these instances, the app should be able to respond to the scenario, either degrading its functionality or preventing itself from loading.
Apple’s design guidelines offer a look into the future of augmented reality apps. Although ARKit’s not available to consumers yet, the detail within shows how seriously Apple’s approaching the concept. It wants augmented reality to be a success for developers and consumers.
However, the technology has a steeper learning curve than interfaces such as touchscreens or voice control, making the first-run experience more important than usual. The company will be able to gauge ARKit’s reception when it’s released in a few weeks. Apps including GIPHY, Food Network and IKEA are expected to be available at launch.

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