Onboarding UX for Mobile AR

Onboarding UX for Mobile AR Augmented Reality apps is growing more popular, and we will see more and more AR content coming out soon, which is why we need to discuss the importance of onboarding UX for these applications.

In this article, I'll talk about my experiences and observations while developing mobile AR apps, as well as show you some examples of great onboarding experiences.

To begin, let me explain why we need an onboarding experience for AR apps and what I mean by onboarding.

Many of us became accustomed to mobile apps with a standard login screen, video content, and a list view with items over the last decade. In other words, we became acquainted with several design patterns and learned how to apply them. When interacting with a Google Map or a specific share button icon, we can't live without zoom and pinch gestures. However, when it comes to AR apps, we don't really have a standard design pattern that our users are familiar with. Or perhaps there should be multiple patterns?

I recently worked on several AR mobile apps for children and observed how the apps were used by children and their parents. I could see them struggling and asking questions such as:
  • "How should I proceed from here?"
  • "Why isn't anything happening?"

I learned an important lesson: users who had previously played Pokemon Go or similar games had no trouble using our AR app, whereas younger children or users who had never played any AR games before struggled at first to understand how to place an AR object on the ground. Having said that, we can draw two conclusions from this:
  • Pokemon Go's popularity has made it easier for other AR creators because it defined a specific design pattern for AR user experience.
  • AR is still in its early stages, and we must use onboarding experiences to introduce new users to various UX patterns.

What exactly is AR onboarding?

When I think of a great example of an AR experience and a creative approach to onboarding, I always think of the Wonderscope game. This app was a great reference for me because I am also working with AR apps for children.

The Wonderscope team employs a variety of strategies:
  • The presence of a 3D creature on the screen indicates that AR is active, and the platform is flying in front of the camera.
  • Use of sound to provide directions: "I don't see any landing lights."
  • In the middle of the screen, there are some helpful hints: "Look for a flat place with patterns."
  • When the surface is detected and the user sees green patterns indicating where the platform can land, the platform is ready to land.

Although it is called an onboarding experience, and many people believe it occurs only once, Wonderscope chooses to run it every time a user begins a story for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Children enjoy playing together, and it may be beneficial to repeat the onboarding process.
  • Children learn quickly but also forget quickly, so repeating the same pattern makes sense.

Wonderscope app's augmented reality onboarding
Let's take a look at another, more straightforward example of AR onboarding: the Ikea Place app:

Ikea Place displays only the placement indicator after a few simple onboarding animations the first time you use the app.

Experience that is influenced by the environment

It is difficult to create a great AR experience. Modern mobile AR apps that use ARKit and ARCore rely on two major factors:
  • Excellent lighting conditions
  • Surfaces with patterns

In other words, our augmented reality experiences are influenced by the environment, and it is our responsibility to make any user aware of these factors. To make the experience more user-friendly, both ARKit and ARCore have APIs that can assist a developer in measuring light conditions and detected features. Use those APIs to provide feedback such as:
  • "Look for a flat surface with patterns."
  • "Try turning on the lights if there isn't enough light."

There may be no universal solution for explaining your AR experience to users, but one thing is certain: AR apps are still new to many people, and we should use all APIs and techniques at our disposal to make this experience as smooth as possible.

In terms of our onboarding experience, we are still working on it and trying to improve it all the time. 

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