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Apple’s ARKit will democratize augmented reality

Mark Rosner
Jun 28, 2017
augmented reality app on phone

Last year I wrote about how augmented reality (AR) would be the winner in the short term compared to virtual reality (VR). My colleague Sean Webster agrees that AR will lead in the eSports world.

Fast forward to June 5th when Apple announced its stunning augmented reality platform called ARKit during WWDC. ARKit will allow existing iPhones and iPad devices to display and process AR in a way that makes objects truly feel like they’re in the room with you. More importantly, all of this is possible with existing technologies without requiring users to buy into new, expensive, potentially buggy, or uncool hardware.

During Apple’s WWDC demo of ARKit, virtual objects were remarkably stable when shown using the camera on an iPad Pro. More impressive is the fact that ARKit allows for dynamic lighting, which was shown by placing a virtual lamp next to a virtual vase and showing how shadows of virtual objects moved as objects moved.

AppLovin animated AR kit

What ARKit means for mobile developers

Prior to ARKit, developers would have to find a way to build their own software to recognize objects in the real world. The software would have to be smart enough to know where the the floor, walls and objects in the room are relative to the virtual objects being placed. With ARKit, developers can simply use Apple’s tools to quickly implement AR into their apps. For users, this means you don’t need to buy any new hardware like dual cameras for depth sensing or IR sensors for positioning, like VR currently requires.

By building an easy-to-use AR framework into iOS itself, Apple has lowered the difficulty of building AR tools and features into apps. Where AR may not have been on developers’ radars before, ARKit might bring augmented reality to the forefront of app development.

Apps that currently use rudimentary forms of AR will become even more powerful with ARKit. For example, Yelp already has an AR feature called Monocle (which was introduced as an Easter egg way back in 2009), but the app currently shows only the restaurant name and rating. Yelp had to release Monocle as a hidden feature and sort of a “hack” because, according to Wired, Apple didn’t even have an API for developers to tap into the iPhone’s live video.

Fast forward to today, and ARKit shows how far mobile app development and AR have come. With Yelp, ARKit has the potential to add more virtual objects like swipeable photos, virtual menus, mapped footpaths to storefronts, and even coupon and deal pop-ups. Games like Pokémon Go will be even more immersive with proper object anchoring.  

But perhaps the biggest reason why ARKit will democratize augmented reality is the fact that Apple’s framework will work on millions of iOS devices out of the box. Apple says any iPhone or iPad with an A9 or higher processor running iOS 11 will be able to support ARKit. Instead of having to convince consumers to opt into specialized devices with more cameras and sensors, Apple can leverage the phone that’

Augmented reality’s advantages over virtual reality

One of the big pitfalls of VR is the fact that it requires powerful and expensive hardware to run. Even mobile VR like Google’s Daydream VR and Samsung Gear VR require powerful hardware in order to display a video feed for each eye. AR on the other hand, is already possible. The aforementioned Pokémon Go and Snapchat have educated users on how to use AR in a fun way. Pokémon allowed users to interact with their favorite characters in the real world and Snapchat used fun selfie filters to show off the tech.

With VR, users have to be trained on how to use different technologies. Using an Oculus Rift will be a completely different experience from the HTC Vive and the Samsung Gear VR. AR has the luxury of being built into the apps and hardware that everyone already uses, which is why ARKit will launch AR into the mainstream.

What iOS developers are already making with ARKit

Although ARKit has yet to launch, Apple has already partnered with furniture giant IKEA to create an app that lets buyers virtually try out furniture in their home via AR. The IKEA app with ARKit enabled provides customers with a slick shopping experience by helping visually display how a certain chair or lamp would fit into someone’s existing decor. IKEA is just the tip of the iceberg, with iOS developers already creating cooling proofs-of-concepts like you see below. (And make sure to follow @madewithARKit on Twitter for future projects).  

For mobile marketers, ARKit opens a whole new world of possibilities. Clothing companies can let users try on clothes virtually like the UNIQLO Magic Mirror. Film studios will be able to release interactive movie trailers where virtual characters can inhabit the real world. Mobile strategy games could turn into table-top experiences with animated characters running around on your living room.

Education could also benefit from ARKit, allowing teachers to utilize a visual medium for teaching science, history, and more. With AR, experiences are instantly shareable and understandable within the context of the real world.

ARKit won’t be released to the public until late this year but from the creations we’ve already seen from app developers, Apple is poised to bring augmented reality to the masses.

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