So the latest Apple Keynote happened yesterday and amongst the flurry of announcements made was the linking up of previously-announced software (ARKit) and the latest iPhone hardware. Putting both of these together has instantly made Apple the number one provider of AR technology in the world with the largest immediate audience – once iOS11 goes public later in September there will be over 1 billion worldwide devices that can immediately be a part of this new AR world.
AR has been a much-hyped technology offering for over half a decade but until Pokémon Go arrived, no-one outside of the developer arena really cared or saw a use for it. The technology involved in Pokémon Go is incredibly basic in comparison to what ARKit can provide so we can expect a stampede of high-grade AR experiences in the coming months, only on iOS devices.
What Apple has done is create an easy-to-develop-with framework (ARKit) that makes it relatively easy for developers to create AR experiences. Couple this with the immediately huge potential audience for developer’s creations and Apple have once again created the “perfect storm” of streamlined software development with a large consumer audience.
Google has tried to do this before with their Tango product, but there are only a tiny number of devices that are capable of running the software, so its take-up has been very muted. Given the fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, where the majority of users are not on the latest version of the operating system and the highly disjointed way that Android software has to work with a multitude of hardware pieces, Apple immediately has a significant lead over Google even though they were “later to the game”.
ARKit uses machine learning, computer vision, real-world object detection, high-quality graphics and (in the latest iPhone hardware) specific chips that are tuned to help with augmented reality. The end result is an experience that has the potential to finally live up to the hype that AR has been surrounded by since its inception.
So what can AR be used for? Well, as with many other types of technology, this is only limited by the imagination of the developers. Already there are hundreds of demonstrations of ARKit being used (even before the framework is fully launched) and it’s been reported that IKEA is building a completely ARKit-based catalogue to house their products.
It’s easy to see how AR could be used by designers and architects to solve problems on-site and speed up their design processes. Similarly, there are already demonstrations of how planning could be fully AR-enabled without the need for cumbersome VR headsets.
Gaming, of course, is one area that is rapidly adopting ARKit to produce a new genre of games – all based on mixing the real world and the virtual world in a significantly higher quality experience than Pokémon Go did.
There are even fully-working demonstrations that show how maps and navigation could be improved through the use of AR.
The real takeaway is that AR has now rapidly come of age. With yesterdays’ announcements from Apple, we have a development platform that makes it relatively easy to develop high-quality AR-based apps, an incredibly large audience with the right hardware and software already in place and a consumer base that is aware of the existence of AR and are seemingly hungry for more.
Finally, it seems that reality is about to be augmented.