As we adjust to the at-home “new normal” in the face of COVID-19, we have all come to depend heavily on mobile devices to manage our basic needs. In response, a greater number of companies are transitioning resources towards finding new and innovative ways to reach customers at home, including with emerging technology. Of the latest mobile technology trends, augmented reality (AR) has emerged as an innovative new way for businesses to showcase products and services. With mobile AR experiences, the customer is able to interact and experience products that are digitally represented in three-dimensional space. The value in being able to offer this feature to customers is more important than ever as many do not feel safe returning to stores, but still want the ‘try-before-you-buy’ experience.
There is no one-size-fits all approach to user testing when it comes to AR mobile technologies given how new it is and how different the intended experiences can be. With this in mind, we have created a general guideline to help provide you with some fundamentals and strategies to help you create a testing plan specific for your needs. In order to develop this strategy, Key Lime Interactive ran a small user study focused on testing out methodologies for how to best run AR mobile user experience studies. From this research, we were able to develop insight into what components you should consider when designing a user study on AR mobile capabilities.
Define User Testing Goals for the AR app experience
The first step before starting any user experience study is to have clearly defined goals and objectives for what you want to get out of your test. These goals determine everything from the types of testing methods you will use, the best testing environment, the tasks, and questions you will ask your participants, to name a few. Some of these objectives may include:
- Does the AR feature meet their expectations and consumer needs?
- Does the experience add value to the user’s perception of the product or brand?
- Can the user understand how to use the mobile AR feature correctly?
- Is the user able to successfully run the AR feature on their device?
- Does the user understand and enjoy using AR features?
- Is the navigation easy and intuitive?
Decide on What Tools are Best to Test the Mobile AR Experience
The ability to see the participant in a natural setting interacting with the AR feature will provide the best insights into overall user experience. You want to not only observe the participant but also have the ability to see their mobile device screen while they navigate AR features from the app. By using both the video and screen share, you are able to gain real time insights into the experience, while also being able to ask questions and help guide the participant through the task if they get stuck.
There are a multitude of new testing tools that can help you achieve this. For this study, we used Validately’s moderated testing feature for native phone apps (iOS and Android). Validately allows both the ability to see the participant face-to-face and the ability to screen share. A noteworthy feature of Validately is that we can use it to automatically open to the AR mobile app being tested. This is important because it reduces the amount of work the participant must do to join the study session and it prevents the participant from having to search through their phone, while screen sharing is enabled, potentially revealing personal information that the participant does not want shared.
Decide on the Best Location for Testing the Experience
You want the setting for the experience to be somewhere that the participant would naturally interact with the app if they were using it on their own. For example, if a participant is asked to provide feedback on an AR furniture app, then it becomes important that they are tested in their home environment as opposed to a coffee shop or conference room setting.
Example of how the size of the space can impact how the digital items react to the environment.
In addition to location, some other things to keep in mind that can have a dramatic effect on how the AR features functions and how the user perceives the experience include;
- The size of the room and amount of available floor space
- The number of items in the room (i.e., clutter)
- The amount of space needed to accommodate certain virtual items
- The amount of lighting in the room
- The distance of the user to the wall or space where the object is placed
Understand & Overcome Technological Limitations
When testing mobile AR experiences remotely, it usually requires running both a testing tool app and the test AR app on the participant mobile device, which means that bandwidth is going to play a big part in this. If you have a bad connection this can force the participant to drop out of the test session early, produce lag, and create long loading times. For an AR experience, the ability for the digital item to react in real-time and in sync with the user's movements is critical to the experience. From our study, we have found that there are some things you can do to help ensure that this does not happen to you.
- The make and model of the phone, for instance, will determine whether the participant is able to fully experience the AR capabilities for a particular app.
- Recruit participants who have access to mobile devices that are newer models
- Ask participants to make sure that their phone has the latest updates installed for AR applications
- Have the participant connect to their wifi and perform the test in a location that is close to their router
- Have the participant run a connectivity test before starting the study
Mobile AR Conclusion
Despite more and more businesses reopening, Americans remain hesitant to return to old ways of doing business. A study of 1,200 consumers found that 90% of them do not feel comfortable returning to shopping in stores and prefer to continue to shop online for the foreseeable future (Retail Systems Research, 2020). The ability for businesses to adapt and flourish in this changing world requires a shift towards mobile platforms to find new and innovative ways to reach their customers. Mobile AR experiences provide a unique opportunity for a brand to showcase their products and services in ways never before imagined. The goal of this article was to highlight how UX researchers can help companies provide the best mobile AR experience for their customers.