A Designer’s Guide to Hardware and Software for Mobile AR

The First Steps

​​This article is not intended to teach (or even encourage) designers to code. My goal is to get you comfortable with the emerging AR landscape and give you insight into how an AR app is made.

Hardware and software are easy to overlook when focusing on design and experience. However, when working in new and emerging tech, knowing how things work can help inspire and even bring innovation to this space.

The following is a high-level breakdown of the different parts that make an AR application work on a mobile device.

What Makes a Computer Work?

Before we start, it’s probably worth understanding how a device is able to run in the first place.

All computers have a processor which serves as the brain of a device; it is the part that makes things work by performing mathematical operations.

The A11 Bionic chip inside the iPhone X

Processors come in the form of chips, and these chips contain several hardware units. The hardware unit that reads and performs a program instruction is called a core.

Put a few cores together, and you have CPU (Central Processing Unit). A CPU processes information step-by-step.

Put a few THOUSAND cores together, and you have a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). GPU processes in groups parallel to each other at the same time.

The GPU renders a graphic in several parts rather than in one piece. The GPU also increases frame rates and makes things look better and smoother in general.

Mobile devices have what’s called a SOC (System on a Chip), a single chip that packs and condenses all the large parts of a desktop device together, such as the CPU and GPU.

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