ARKit is Apple's augmented reality (AR) platform for iOS devices. It enables developers to produce apps that interact with the world around you using the device's cameras and sensors.
Apple has been extremely keen on the potential of AR for a couple of years now and introduced ARKit in 2017 as part of iOS 11. It subsequently announced a second version in iOS 12 and now has a third-generation version planned for iOS 13. There is a Google equivalent for Android phones, called ARCore.
Here's everything you need to know about ARKit, including what it can do and examples of its power in action.
What is AR?
Augmented reality isn't a new technology, but it is relatively new to personal devices. While virtual reality immerses you into a space, essentially replacing everything you see in a physical world, AR takes the world around you and adds virtual objects to it.
What is Apple ARKit?
It's a development platform that enables app developers to quickly and easily build AR experiences into their apps and games. It uses your iOS device's camera, processors, and motion sensors to create some immersive interactions.
As a user, you don't actually see if something is an ARKit-enabled app or not - you just see a great, fun or useful app.
ARKit uses a technology called Visual Inertial Odometry in order to track the world around your iPad or iPhone. This enables your iOS device to sense how it moves in a room.
ARKit uses that data to not only analyse a room's layout, but also detect horizontal planes like tables and floors. The tech can then serve up virtual objects to be placed upon those surfaces in your physical room.
What's the point of ARKit?
Developers are free to create all kinds of experiences using ARKit and various apps are now available.
One of the best examples is Ikea, enabling you to preview Ikea products in your own home before making a purchase. If only it would actually make the things as well.
For Apple, ARKit opens up an entirely new category of apps that would run on every iPhone and iPad.
Plus, it opens up so many long-term possibilities. The company is rumoured to be working on an AR headset, for instance. Imagine wearing Apple AR glasses capable of augmenting you world every day.
As part of iOS 12 last year, Apple revealed a second-generation version of ARKit which it launched alongside a Lego concept featuring virtual Lego pieces and minifigures.
This was to demonstrate ARKit 2's key feature - multiplayer. Different devices are able to see the same AR scene. They can also pause and resume at will making for more useful experiences where people can come back to a virtual scenario - Apple gave the example of an interior decoration project that you might return to several times over several days.
What's in ARKit 3?
2019's ARKit 3 includes Motion Capture so developers can integrate people’s movement into their app and People Occlusion. Both these technologies mean AR content will show up naturally in front of or behind people to enable more immersive apps.
There's support for both the front and rear cameras now, while the front camera can also track up to three faces.
However, these features all need Apple's latest devices. "People Occlusion and the use of motion capture, simultaneous front and back camera, and multiple face tracking are supported on devices with A12/A12X Bionic chips, Apple Neural Engine and TrueDepth Camera."
So that's essentially last year's iPad Pro models and iPhone XR, XS and XS Max.
Apple has also announced a new app for developers - Reality Composer that enables developers to prototype and produce AR experiences with no prior 3D experience. There's a drag-and-drop interface and a library of pre-existing 3D objects and animations.
Which iOS devices can handle ARKit apps?
Any iPhone or iPad capable of running iOS 11 or later is able to install ARKit apps.
Newer devices will handle the apps better. For instance, post-2017 iPad Pros have bumped-up display refresh rates of 120hz, which means what you see through the camera should seem much more impressive on those devices.
How do you build ARKit apps?
If you're interested in building ARKit apps, go to the Apple Developer site, which has plenty of information about building AR apps. You can download some sample code from there for the game SwiftShot.