Augmented reality frameworks: types, elements, and trends

Augmented reality frameworks: types, elements, and trends

Written by

Rod Reynolds


December 18, 2023

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Augmented reality is a powerful tool that is revolutionizing the fields of entertainment, online commerce, manufacturing, and more. But there are subtle variations in the technology fueling these new experiences, and in this article, we’ll break down the different types.  

Key takeaways:

  • AR can be marker-based or markerless
  • Recent launches indicate AR adoption will grow with proliferation of headsets from Google and Meta
  • AR-livestream shopping and 3D/AR ecommerce will prevail

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality (AR) frameworks enable users to overlay digital media on their physical surroundings. Through AR, providers can introduce images, videos and sounds into the real world. And that’s not all; AR technology enables users to interact with these virtual additions, offering a fully immersive experience.  

AR is different from virtual reality (VR), which delivers a completely virtual experience. Through VR devices, users are cut off from their physical surroundings and are taken to a disconnected virtual world. But an augmented reality framework offers the best of the digital and the physical by superimposing virtually rendered elements onto real-world surroundings.

While AR isn’t a new concept, the world is still coming to grips with its potential. When first introduced, its primary purpose was military training. Since then, it has been used in movie theaters, concerts, sporting events, and video games to create more engaging entertainment experiences. In recent years, retail giants like Amazon and IKEA have developed shopping apps with augmented reality frameworks where buyers can see what products look like in their homes before they hit ‘Buy Now.’ The result? Improved conversions, lower return rates and more satisfied customers.  

What types of AR are out there?  

Broadly speaking, there are two types of augmented reality: marker-based and markerless.  

Marker-based AR is created with image recognition technology to identify objects pre-programmed into an AR application on a device. When a user places an object in its view, their device can recognize it and look for a match. If a match is found, the AR application can superimpose the digital AR element on that object. For example, there are AR QR codes that users can scan to generate 3D visuals.  

Markerless AR is more complex and versatile. Markerless AR does not use predefined objects but recognition algorithms. The AR device recognizes all objects as they come into view and then places digital elements in the surroundings depending on the context.  

Here are four main types of markerless AR:

1. Location-based AR

Location-based AR superimposes 3D virtual objects in the physical space according to where the user is located. This technology reads the location data of smart devices using sensors like the camera, GPS, compass, and accelerometer.  

Location-based AR can be used for many purposes. Tourists can point their phones at monuments to receive enhanced information about the history behind the landmark. Construction workers can use AR to see what a building is supposed to look like before it’s complete and examine it from all angles. The pioneering AR game Pokémon GO, which brought users onto the streets to catch as many digital creatures as possible, was an early demonstration of the power of this kind of tech.  

2. Projection-based AR

Projection-based AR renders virtual 3D objects within a user’s physical space. While location-based AR can intuitively track and predict a user’s movements and read their current location in real-time, projection-based AR is only applicable in a specific location.  

The user is free to explore the environment of a specific area equipped with a fixed projector and a tracking camera. It does not require a display tool, as it projects light onto real surfaces.  

Projection-based AR can create realistic projections to show the depth, position, and spatial orientation of an object on flat surfaces. Its adoption has been strongest in the manufacturing industry, where one common use is to guide operators step-by-step through a series of changing prompts, enhancing safety on the factory floor.  

An example of projection-based AR can be seen by clicking 'See in your space' on this experience

3. Overlay AR

As the name suggests, overlay AR is used to overlay a virtual image onto a physical space in the real world. It enables users to rotate, zoom, and view objects from any angle, and can provide users with additional digital content about that object.

4. Contour-based AR

Contour-based AR uses special cameras to outline objects with contour lines. Users can then decipher the positions of these objects with greater precision. For example, a contour-based AR framework can be used in car navigation systems so that drivers can safely navigate low-visibility roads.  

The three elements of an augmented reality framework  

Augmented reality has three key elements:

  • Content
  • Hardware
  • Software


In today’s digital-first world, there is no lack of data. AR thrives on the insights and information derived by analyzing this data.  

Consider an enterprise information system. Digital information assets are rich with metadata that maps them to the real world. For example, a 3D model of a building will also contain metadata like the street address, coordinates, geolocation, etc. When needed, this metadata can be read by a digital device, and the location pin can be viewed on a map.  


Hardware-based sensors are essential for capturing users’ context, detecting triggers, and responding to those triggers with signals. They are the eyes and ears of the device and allow for digital interactions with the physical world. Sensors can be physically mounted, integrated with, or embedded into devices.  

For the user, consumer-grade smartphones or tablets are all that is needed to enjoy an immersive AR experience. Most new smartphone models come enabled for AR, making AR content available to users instantly.  

A number of AR devices designed for enterprises are also on the market. Head-mounted displays such as smart glasses are the most common. Since 2019, the number of AR glasses sold has been approximately doubling each year. That trend is predicted to continue until at least 2024, when nearly 4 million units are expected to be sold (up from 960,000 in 2022). And the recently announced launch of new AR-powered headsets from Apple and Meta is set to drive further adoption of the technology.


Software is involved at every stage of creating an AR experience:

  • Analyzing data  
  • Storing, analyzing, and detecting patterns in sensor observations
  • Understanding user context
  • Tracking changes in user data  
  • Producing appropriate responses, such as hardware-generated sounds and visible augmentations
  • Logging and tracking AR data

AR trends to be aware of

Three key points to know about immersive technologies:

1. Augmented Reality is here to stay

The metaverse refers to a globally shared virtual environment, kind of like a 3D internet, and it has quickly become a powerful macrotrend in the space of digital technology. While today, the metaverse is often associated with VR, experts say AR could really bring it to life by offering a much-desired link between the real and digital worlds. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are another leading-edge technology that can work alongside AR. There are already augmented reality NFTs, allowing users to own one-of-a-kind 3D objects that can interact with physical environments.  

But the biggest driver of AR proliferation is likely to come in the form of Apple’s Vision Pro headset, which will take AR-powered immersive experiences to the next level and could pave the way for AR to become the new standard for computing interfaces.  

2. AR livestream shopping  

Influencers all over the world are livestreaming their shopping hauls by demonstrating and describing products in physical stores, all while interacting with their audience. But in a basic live stream, the audience can’t directly interact with the products. AR changes all of that, by allowing viewers (and potential customers) to follow a live stream while also trying on the products being reviewed. In 2019, Google launched its Beauty Try On program, which allows viewers to try on makeup while watching beauty reviews.  

3. 3D and AR will dominate ecommerce

It’s a common misconception that only ecommerce giants like Amazon are using 3D and AR. In reality, immersive experiences are becoming the standard in online commerce, and even individual sellers and small businesses on Shopify can create AR-based product previews. Today, companies like Enhance can help manufacturers and brands get started with 3D and AR commerce using with superior web-based technologies that can be integrated in any online property or shopping platform quickly and easily.  

How to get started with AR

The good news is that businesses do not need to overhaul their existing ecosystem or make huge investments to adopt an AR framework.  

With advances in the technology, AR has rapidly become accessible and affordable. From custom-built applications to web-based deployments, AR integration is achievable regardless of budget.

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