Apple sees a lot of potential in augmented reality.
Ever since Pokemon Go exploded in popularity last summer and subsequently revived interest in both Apple's App Store and mobile gaming, Apple has said several times that it is embracing the technology, which is commonly called AR, especially now that it offers the ARKit platform. Here's everything you need to know about ARKit, including what it can do and examples of its power in action.
- WWDC 2017: All the announcements that matter
- iOS 11: 11 new features coming to your iOS device
- These are all the iOS 11 features Apple didn't announce
What is AR?
Augmented reality isn't a new technology. But Apple is now jumping into AR, so everyone's been talking about it. You see, 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. You can look with your phone, for instance, and see a Pokemon standing in your living room.
What is Apple ARKit?
With iOS 11, which debuted at WWDC 2017, Apple is officially acknowledging AR. It has introduced the ARKit development platform, allowing app developers to quickly and easily build AR experiences into their apps and games. It will launch alongside iOS 11 this autumn. When it's finally live, it'll use your iOS device's camera, processors, and motion sensors to create some immersive interactions.
It also uses a technology called Visual Inertial Odometry in order to track the world around your iPad or iPhone. This functionality allows your iOS device to sense how it moves in a room. ARKit will use that data to not only analyse a room's layout, but also detect horizontal planes like tables and floors and 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, some of which are already being shown off on Twitter. IKEA even announced it is developing a new AR app built on ARKit that will let customers to preview IKEA products in their own homes before making a purchase. IKEA said that Apple's new platform will allow AR to "play a key role" in new product lines.
That last bit is key. For Apple, ARKit opens up an entirely new category of apps that would run on every iPhone and iPad. It essentially wants to recreate and multiply the success of Pokemon Go. 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.
Are there any ARKit demos available?
Downtown LA. My July 4th weekend FourSquare checkins visualized in AR. (ARKit + Unity + Mapbox + Swarm) pic.twitter.com/1Gddt3i6kP— Aaron Ng (@aaronykng) July 13, 2017
Does ARKit face any competition?
Let's also not forget that ARKit allows Apple to compete with Microsoft's Hololens and Google's Tango AR kit. But while Hololens and Tango are designed to be aware of multiple physical spaces and all of the shapes contained within, ARKit is more about detecting flat surfaces and drawing on those flat surfaces. In other words, it's more limited, but we're still in early-days territory right now.
We actually think ARKit's capabilities, as of July 2017, reminds us of the AR effects found inside Snapchat or even the Facebook Camera app. The potential of Apple's AR platform will likely improve as we move closer to the launch of iOS 11, however.
Which iOS devices can handle ARKit apps?
Any iPhone or iPad capable of running iOS 11 will be able to install ARKit apps. However, we're assuming newer devices will handle the apps better. For instance, the new 10.5-inch and 12.5-inch iPads Pro tablets that debuted during WWDC 2017 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 get started with ARKit?
If you're interested in building ARKit apps for iOS 11, go to the Apple Developer site, which has forums for building AR apps and beta downloads. If you're a consumer who is just excited to play, you can go get the new iPad Pro and install the iOS 11 public beta to try out some of the early demos for AR. Otherwise, wait for iOS 11 to officially release alongside new AR apps in the App Store.