What are the Types of Augmented Reality?

You’ve heard about AR. But what  is  it?  A lot of our clients have these same questions, especially this one:

What are the types of Augmented Reality?

In the following post, we’ll outline the most common types of AR, and the advantages of each.

Spoiler: There is no winner. The challenge is to find the right type of AR to solve your particular challenge!

Marker-Based Augmented Reality

Marker-based AR is probably the one we’ve all seen the most; look at an image in an advertisement or in a book, and something comes to life.

In the following example from our dinosaur flash card game, check out how the dinosaurs appear to "stick" to the marker.

Advantages of Marker AR

Instant, Reliable Detection

Since the app doesn't need to gather data about the world, it will detect this single image very quickly.

It’s great in low lighting, bad lighting, and busy lighting (like in a convention or trade show). Summary: it works most of the time.

Easy to Teach

Unlike methods where the user might have to look around and scan the world for , this method is very easy to learn. You just tell the user to “open the app and look at this image.” Then it works! For this reason, it’s great for conventions, promotions, and anything where users might not have the patience to be taught about the usage of your app.

Surface Detection Augmented Reality

We’ve all seen the news about ARKit and ARCore. Right now, as of early 2018, these technologies mainly detect surfaces. Horizontal surfaces. We won’t delve into how this is achieved, but it’s a clever process of comparing inputs from a few of the phone’s sensors, like camera(s) and accelerometers. In simple terms, it lets you place virtual objects on flat surfaces in your real world.

Advantages of Surface Detection Augmented Reality

Available on Most Phones…And Supported By Manufacturers

ARKit and ARCore are designed to use the sensors in the most common phones. When iOS11 was released, existing iPhone users were instantly able to use ARKit experiences with hardware they already had on their phones. Yet, these technologies can do things most people only expected of specialized hardware, like Google Tango phones.

Deeper, Real World Interactions

Let’s pretend we have an AR bowling game. In a marker-based version, you can assume that the area with the marker is flat. You bowl a strike, and the pins bounce around on the plane. Some might appear to float over the edge of the table. Why? Because we are assuming the plane starts from the marker, and extends to some arbitrary distance.

In this same game, if you have surface detection, and you roll a strike, the bowling pins will actually fall off the edge of the table. Why?  Because our app can tell where the table surface ends. This provides a cool feeling of realism, and tricks your mind that the pins are “actually there”.

In the following example from our game "Boom", we show how the virtual bricks fall from a real-world surface.

Overlay Augmented Reality

Behold, the most simple type of AR. Place something over your camera view of the world. The best way to describe it is in the context of Google Glass. It’s technically “augmenting your reality” because it’s overlaid into your world. But it’s not placed relative to the world around you.

Here's an example mockup of Google Glass overlaid AR, otherwise known as a Heads Up Display (HUD).

Advantages of Overlay Augmented Reality

Low System Demand

This type requires few resources from the device. It’s not doing any complex calculations as to where to place objecst in the world. For this reason, it has a low demand of the hardware.

Quick to Develop

If your needs are purely to display data in a way that’s easily found (imagine an air quality readout inside a firefighter’s helmet), then it’s a reliable, simple process to develop such a display.

Combining Types

We outlined these main, basic types of AR for the purpose of easy reading. But keep in mind, it’s common to combine them!

Overlaid Interface on Other Types of AR

A lot of other types of AR use Overlaid AR in addition to what they’re already displaying in AR. So imagine a video game on your tabletop, but the energy meter of your character is always overlaid in the corner of your screen.

Marker Detection with Surface Interaction

It’s common to use a marker to automatically kick off an AR scene, and then use surface detection to create some realism in the scene. The marker creates an easy way to onboard the user, and it works quickly. Surface detection is highly dependent on the real-world surface and lighting, so it’s great to have redundancy. The idea here is to start the experience ASAP, and then use surface detection to add some realism.

And That’s That.

Choosing the right type of Augmented Reality is an exercise in knowing the goals of your product. Do you need robust detection, or realistic 3d interaction, or clear data display...or some combination?


Contact us  about your project and we'll help guide you through the process.


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