By Paul Mealy

In the beginning stages of any VR or AR project, consider how you’ll distribute your content to your users. Unlike websites or traditional computer applications, which can be run on a wide variety of equipment without issue, sharing your VR or AR content with users will likely be heavily dependent on the particular combination of hardware and software available to your audience.

Applications such as Unity and Unreal provide you the flexibility to export to many different platforms, while other development environments such as XCode may enable you to create content for a specific platform only. Make sure you understand the market you’re trying to reach before determining how you’ll be creating your application.

Virtual reality desktop headsets

You can develop standalone applications for desktop headsets (useful if creating projects that may be distributed in-house only), but most desktop head-mounted displays (HMDs) have their own distribution platform.

For example, the HTC Vive’s official app store is Viveport, and the Oculus Rift distributes most of its content through the Oculus Store. Windows Mixed Reality apps are distributed through the Microsoft Store. PlayStation VR games are available through traditional brick-and-mortar stores as well as the online PlayStation store. Other options such as Steam VR allow you to distribute to multiple devices, but this may not be as frictionless an experience as the “officially” supported app store for a certain device, most of which are available both while in the VR environment or in front of a 2D screen.

Each store may have a different set of requirements and regulations. If you’re creating content for these devices, make sure you understand what you need to provide each store when submitting your applications and how your applications will be displayed and showcased.

Virtual reality mobile headsets

Similar to desktop headsets, mobile headsets typically have an associated store or distribution platform that most users will use to download their content. It is possible to create standalone builds for users, but most VR content you create for mobile headsets will be downloaded from the official distribution platform for each headset. The Google Play Store exposes VR content through the Daydream app, while for the Gear VR most content is accessed via the Oculus Store available through the Gear home screen.

The image below shows the Oculus Store as seen through a Gear VR.

Oculus virtual reality
The Oculus Store via Gear VR.

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard is less tied to a specific piece of hardware or software, making its app distribution channels a bit more open. Most content will likely still be accessible from each specific device’s distribution store. For Android devices, you would likely distribute your applications through the Google Play Store, while for iOS devices you would distribute content via Apple’s App Store.

WebVR

WebVR gives you a much broader distribution platform than the “walled gardens” of the device-specific app stores. As you would with any website, you simply need to find a web host to store your WebVR work. Doing so will enable users on the likes of Cardboard, Daydream, Gear VR, Rift, Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality to experience your content via VR-enabled web browsers.

Augmented reality headsets

AR headsets seems to be headed in the same direction as VR headsets with regard to application distribution. However, because most AR headsets are being targeted toward enterprise-level customers at this time, it will be interesting to see how these distribution methods play out. Microsoft’s HoloLens applications, for example, are currently available through the Microsoft Store.

Mobile augmented reality

Mobile AR applications, much like typical mobile applications, can be found in their respective app stores. ARKit apps are available through Apple’s App Store, while ARCore apps are delivered via the Google Play Store.

Web-based AR, similar to WebVR, can be accessed via a web browser on your mobile device. It’s worth noting, though, that mobile AR often requires very specific hardware and software, beyond the standard mobile web browsers available to users. Be aware of which devices and software can support your experience if you intend to distribute your AR app via the web.

Other virtual reality distribution options

You may create VR content with a specific application or method of distribution in mind. Or you may want to create and share simple content, such as 360-degree photos or videos, without developing an application to do so.

Distributing 360-degree video content has become much easier, with platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook enabling 360-degree video on their respective platforms. The videos can play through standard browsers on 2D screens and on most major VR headsets. If you’re looking for a simple way to distribute your VR video content to a large audience, a solution such as YouTube can often be the best method of doing so.

Various photo apps enable you to share your photos in VR as well. The photo-sharing site Flickr produces a Flickr VR app that allows you to share your photo content in VR. Facebook’s 360 app for Gear VR enables users to browse 360-degree VR photos from their friends, and sites such as Kuula allow users to create and share their 360-degree VR photos, as well as add 3D hotspots, videos, and links to other photos, all within the 360-degree experience. These 360-degree images can all be browsed within a standard 2D web browser.

This image shows the Kuula website interface displaying a 360-degree image on a desktop, as well 3D hotspots linking to other images, YouTube videos, and information.

Kuula virtual reality
The Kuula website interface.

The nature of AR and its current level of maturity can make sharing AR content a bit more limited. However, applications such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook all provide their users various ways of sharing their photos and videos complete with AR filters applied to them. The “AR-ness” of these items is limited in scope (often little more than applying a filter to a user’s face to make him appear to have koala ears or a butterfly crown), but these simple AR features are likely the widest current usage of consumer AR to date — they’re used by millions of users daily.

As AR grows in maturity, it will be interesting to see how it will evolve beyond these simple but popular filters into sharable content with more substance.