What’s New in the June Release of SOLIDWORKS Sell: Web AR for Android Devices

This June, my family and I had a vacation in the Finger Lakes area in New York state. Nerdy as I am, I couldn’t help using my iPhone 6s with augmented reality (AR) to show off a customized digital chair inside the room. For fun, I shared this with the vacation house owner (and many others I met).

I thought it was just a casual conversation, but interestingly enough, right before we left the owner asked me, “How can I show off the AR thing on my phone? I want to look smart and have some fun with friends.”

It turned out that he was using an Android device. I was glad that SOLIDWORKS Sell just added the Web AR support of Android devices in the 2.11.4 release on June 3—perfect timing for him to play.

As you may know, the Android Operating System accounts for more than three quarters of the global market share. After SOLIDWORKS Sell added the web AR support for Apple devices, as mentioned in a previous article, Try Before You Buy with Augmented Reality, there have been many user requests for support on Android devices. Now it’s available; let’s see how it works.

It’s actually quite easy. First, you need to install an Android AR component (ARCore 1.9 or later) if you haven’t already. You can see the strategic differences between Google and Apple with this step. Apple includes the necessary AR component in iOS 12 or later so that users do not have to install a separate app. I can see why Steve Jobs insisted on a “closed” system in his time, as opposed to Google’s “open” system. Personally, I like Apple’s approach better here, and think that a strategic component such as AR should be included in the mobile operating systems by default. Gartner estimated that by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop using AR. One more separate app means one more chance for user dropouts in the workflow and more support calls to brands, retailers and software vendors.

The next step is to simply tap to open a 3D configurator URL in your Chrome browser, such as an office deskchair or this Beamy speaker/projector. Once happy with your customization, tap on the AR button at the upper left corner as shown in Figure 1. The AR button location depends on the layout design in SOLIDWORKS Sell as mentioned in a previous post, How to Create a LEGO-like Online 3D Configurator.

Figure 1. Customize a chair and then tap on the AR button to preview.

You can follow the on-screen guide as shown in Figure 2 to place the digital chair in your space.

Figure 2. Android on-screen guide to place a digital chair in your space.

You can rotate with a pinch to spin the model, pinch in or out to scale the display down or up, or double tap to restore the 100 percent actual scale.

To me, this type of simple AR application makes perfect sense because it serves a useful purpose in an easy way.

First, it’s practical. The 100 percent size of a product plays a significant role in purchasing decisions, as it allows users to see how the product would fit in the actual space. AR provides this key insight where traditional digital models and pictures alone, without a relevant context, leave a major gap.

In fact, I am often surprised by how big or small a model shows up in AR mode. The surprise here adds value, because the true size is so valuable that some software even completely disables scaling for digital models in the AR mode. In addition to the value of true sizes, AR also presents colors and textures within the physical space, so that consumers can decide whether the styles would match the actual environment.

Even better, the digital AR model can interact with the physical space by reflecting the surroundings. Figure 3 illustrates a digital cabinet’s stainless steel wall reflecting a doormat in my mudroom. It certainly adds another layer of realism.

Figure 3. A digital cabinet stainless wall reflects an actual door mat in AR mode.

Second, the AR mode in web browsers on smartphones is very convenient. The convenience further contributes to its practicality on the first point. Obviously, smartphones are pervasive. The mobile highway has been paved, and mobile Internet traffic has surpassed personal computers in a large number of use cases. People can simply pull their phone out of their pocket and accomplish many things. The same is being applied to AR experiences.

In contrast, virtual reality (VR) today still needs uncomfortable devices such as glasses, goggles, helmets or even theaters, often accompanied by annoying motion sickness. The state of VR right now reminds me of that of movies 100 years ago as presented in the PBS documentary The Kinetoscope. Apparently, the barrier to compelling AR experiences is much lower than VR.

Figure 4. Watch movies through a peephole in the early days of movies.

Furthermore, AR software has made tremendous progress. All you need now is a web browser. There is no special app needed to experience AR (almost, except for the Google ARCore component as mentioned earlier). So the user experience has been remarkably simplified. Plus, in the early days of AR, the software used to require a separate special QR code to anchor a digital model. New enhancements have been made to recognize a floor automatically to place a model.

With that said, there are software and hardware system requirements for Web AR to work properly on Android devices. First, make sure that your device is on Google’s list of supported devices. Second, make sure that the device is using Android version 8 or later, and that ARCore 1.9 or later has been installed.

As to digital models, it is highly recommended to simplify the internal features and components before enabling Web AR. After all, most of the time, the AR mode is to help visually validate the exterior dimensions and appearances in a physical space, so internal details will not be seen anyway. Plus, too many hidden details would increase digital model file sizes and unnecessarily slow down the responses on smartphones. On a webpage, even one second of loading delay can impact the user experience and conversion rate. That’s why Google started using page speed in mobile search ranking in January 2018.

Let’s take the Beamy speaker configurator as an example. Figure 5 shows a SOLIDWORKS exploded view revealing extensive internal mechanical details. While valuable for a complete design, these details are really not necessary for an exterior configurator—let alone the inner electrical components such as printed circuit board, wiring and harnessing—because their appearances probably will not affect online shoppers’ purchasing decisions.

Figure 5. A SOLIDWORKS exploded view of the Beamy speaker.

Therefore, the published configurator focused on the outer appearances and removed a large number of inner details. Figure 6 shows the comparison between the finished configurator and the simplified internal components and features. In fact, the total online geometry (OBJ) is only 25MB, rather than 400MB of its SOLIDWORKS assembly. This is why the online configurator and AR can work smoothly on a smartphone.

Figure 6. A comparison between a finished online configurator and the internal simplifications.

One partof the speaker model worth noting is the frame, as shown in Figure 7. The holes and ribs have all been removed to cut the geometry file size down by 70 percent. For the best AR experience, this type of cost-effective simplification is recommended.

Figure 7. A comparison between a complete frame and a simplified one to cut the file size and speed up online responses.

Now let’s take a look at how to enable Web AR for a configurator in SOLIDWORKS Sell. You will need to check the box ARQUICKLOOK on a configurator tile, as shown in Figure 8 below. Web AR is not enabled for every configurator by default due to the geometry size and performance considerations, as previously mentioned.

Figure 8. Enable Web AR for a configurator.

On the Preview Web Layout editor, make sure the AR button is placed to the front for all necessary screen sizes, especially for low-resolution phones, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. Make sure the AR button is placed to the front for all necessary screen sizes.

With the above checks, you should be all set with the Web AR for your online visitors.

Before I forget, during my vacation at Finger Lakes, the vacation house owner also wanted to show off his newly renovated antique boat on his Android phone with AR. I am not as familiar with scanning software and hardware. Do you have any suggestions?

To learn more about how SOLIDWORKS Sell can help promote your ideas and products, please visit its product page. The best way to learn is to play with live examples featured on a demo site including actual client webpages. Have fun and leave your thoughts below.

About the Author

Oboe Wu is a product management professional with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of model-based enterprise and smart manufacturing.

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