Augmented reality has transformed several aspects of consumer and enterprise tech. That includes everything from marketing products through immersive try-ons, to streamlining operations and productivity for industrial enterprises. In both cases, the barriers to entry are sometimes onerous and the path to market isn’t always easy nor clear. Today, we’ll cover brands that adopt AR for immersive marketing. To get in on the action, how much should they expect to spend on development?

The Truth About AR Development Expenses

AR is becoming more popular every year. It has reached more than a billion global users in all its varied forms, growing to 1.51 billion by 2027 according to ARtillery Intelligence. As those figures suggest, investing in this technology is a wise business strategy.

When you’re budgeting for an AR app or experience, you should expect to spend anywhere from $10,000-$100,000, depending on your project scope. Even small projects can quickly become expensive because development can take hundreds of hours.

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What Are the Cost Factors of AR Development?

Multiplying software developers’ hourly charges by the project’s length gives you the general total cost. However, more goes into development than design and programming.

1. Software

You’ll need to hire a professional if you’re not an expert in software development. Front-end, back-end, and mobile developers charge hourly, so however long it takes them to design, program, and debug your AR app or experience will account for the biggest chunk of your budget.

2. Hardware

Though mobile AR has “zero-cost hardware” (the smartphone you and your customers already own), other flavors of XR can involve hardware, and thus additional costs. This can include object tracking, support for headsets and geo-location content. If you want these things, you should consider the return on investment (ROI) of adding them.

3. Content Creation

Every animation, three-dimensional element, and interactive interface has a price tag. While you have to create content no matter what, the cost varies depending on your scope — designing a single augmented overlay is usually less expensive than creating multiple.

4. Testing

Like all other apps, AR requires testing. While your software developer might be able to fix a line of code in under an hour, figuring out a big functional issue can take them ages. In other words, you can spend anywhere from a few dozen to a couple thousand dollars in this phase.

5. Maintenance

Maintenance is an ongoing cost. Expect to spend 20% of your upfront development budget on bug fixes, updates, hosting and customer service. Consider it as preservation of your initial investment — a functional app or experience will get more downloads and positive reviews in the long run.

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The Long-Term Return on Investment of AR Development

Generally, the long-term ROI of AR development is positive. While you might have to keep your scope small to see substantial results, you will likely see more user interaction and engagement — which translates to better revenue, reach and reputation.

Plenty of businesses made their development expenses back after their AR apps or experiences became a success. For instance, Burger King got 54% more in-app purchases after launching its 2019 AR campaign. Even though your scope is undoubtedly smaller than theirs, the point stands.

Measuring the long-term ROI of development is a worthwhile strategy. You can justify your initial investment if you know exactly how much profit your AR experience makes. You can also figure out how to maximize your AR spending if you understand the specifics of your expenses and returns.

Either way, you can consider AR a sound business investment. The value of traditional investments fluctuates substantially over time because of global inflation, so an unconventional alternative might be right for you. Besides, you can generate more revenue this way.

Aligning AR Investments With Your Business Objectives

While the long-term ROI of AR development is generally positive, you should really consider your business objectives before creating an app or experience. Do you want your products to get more visibility? Are you trying to increase brand awareness?

You should also consider your customer engagement goals. In 2021, 30% of people in the U.S. used AR at least once a month — meaning there’s a good chance your customer base will use your app or experience. How will it affect their interactions with your brand?

Aligning your AR investments with your business and customer engagement objectives helps you design an impactful, compelling experience. Remember, market research and data collection are valuable tools when tailoring your app or experience to your industry and needs.

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How to Save Money Without Compromising on Quality

Usually, opting for the cheaper option means you get an inferior product. Luckily, there are numerous ways to save money on AR development without compromising on quality. If you’re strategic, you can stay under budget and still make an AR experience that wows users.

Since software development, testing and debugging are some of the most significant cost factors, finding a way to save on labor should be your first step. Freelance professionals are a fantastic alternative because they do the same job for less.

You can easily find professionals online who do the job for less since they cut out the middleman. Freelance front-end developers charge about $45 per hour on average, with a typical range of $32-$59 an hour — which is less than the three-figure hourly rate you’d pay for someone else.

Either way, you should consider simplifying your AR content to save money. Realistically, animated 3D design elements are out of your budget. Instead, you should use video overlays or interactive 2D elements. While they might not look as flashy, they’re more cost-effective and will still appeal to users.

If you have your heart set on more expensive kinds of content, then consider choosing a cost-effective AR type. Marker-based AR — where a specific object triggers an augmented element — has one of the lowest development costs out of all variants.

At the very least, consider shrinking your scope. Investing in a smaller project gives you more wiggle room in your budget. Instead of trying to develop numerous AR experiences, identify a handful of impactful use cases.

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Even though AR development can quickly get expensive, you can stay under budget if you’re careful. If you’re strategic, you can make your investments back while increasing your brand’s reach, reputation, and revenue.

Devin Partida is Editor-in-Chief of Rehack and editorial contributor at AR Insider. See her work here and follow her @rehackmagazine.

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