Apple AR is Already Blowing Up
By Charlie Fink
For more than a year, Apple's plans for augmented reality (AR) remained shrouded in secrecy. At its much anticipated developer conference in June, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) finally revealed its plans for AR, which put to rest some rumors and, as is always the case with the tech giant, also started some new ones (eyeglasses in 2020)?
AR/VR headsets will be plug and play compatible with new Macs. Older Macs will need a graphics card, which will be available as a peripheral. But the real action is on the phone. Apple introduced a free Software Developer Kit (SDK) for the upcoming iPhone 8, which was immediately downloaded by millions of developers around the world. Many of these first adopters are testing its capabilities and posting the results on YouTube and other social channels.
The new iPhone 8 will be AR-ready with multiple depth sensing cameras and an enhanced localization capability. It will capture detailed data about the environment, which enables the phone to identify and actively react to objects like furniture and walls. Enhanced AR, like Google Tango and ARKit, allow smartphones to identify things as small as a bag of screws at Lowe's Hardware. In the meantime, for iPhone 7, ARKit determines where one or more flat planes are in the world by "anchoring" content to them. Once anchored, you can pan your camera away from the object, have it disappear, and then pan back again, where it reappears, "anchored" to that specific point in space. Last week, the world marveled at an unauthorized Super Mario AR demo made for the Hololens by Abhishek Singh, which received millions of views and appeared in the Washington Post amongst other media outlets. This week, the story is thousands of Apple AR demos hitting social channels.
Microsoft's Hololens looks a lot better in this video. It has a narrow, 30-degree field of view, which makes you feel like you're looking through the slit in a knight's helmet. With ARKit, an iPhone developer can create the same illusion on an iPhone or iPad.
Both Tim Merel of Digi-Capital and VR Industry Analyst Robert Scoble have already declared Apple the winner.
"No one else is going to start with 200 million customers," Scoble said.
Google has Tango, an AR technology that does most of the same things as ARKit, but it requires Qualcomm's powerful Snapdragon 835 processor. Microsoft and Facebook must make the best of what the iOS and Android operating systems give them. Just as it led the app revolution, Apple is poised to define AR.
Here are some of the developers and their work, which illustrates the practical and entertainment potential of ARKit.
Ashley Joyce, AR and Architecture
Ashley Joyce is a developer in Sydney, Australia who's been working with ARKit since it was released the first week of June. In the video below, Joyce placed an architectural model of an old city that had been developed in SketchUp, and placed it in a park so he could walk around inside and outside the model. Developers can also add animated special effects like fire, smoke, mist, lighting, sound effects and collisions.
"I could definitely see some very useful smartphone apps that allow architects, builders, interior designers and clients to solve design solutions on the fly at the building site," Joyce said.
Kobi Snir, BB-8 Droid
Kobi Snir is a 39-year-old programmer living in Israel who's been developing iOS apps for almost ten years.
The thing I like most about this demo is the dog that wanders into the frame and seems to interact with the droid. Snir could not have planned that happy accident (it's at 00:45).
"As many developers did, I also watched Apple's WWDC stream and was amazed by ARKit," Snir said. "The moment I saw the ARKit demo I knew this is the future of mobile apps. I was shocked by how easy it is. ARKit lets you create very cool stuff just by placing a 3D model in the middle of the scene, and BOOM, it’s there, acting like a real world object. You can move around, get closer or move away and the object stays at the same location and orientation."
Snir predicts the App Store is going to be flooded with AR Apps: "There is a use for AR in almost anything: games, entertainment, music, health, navigation. The potential is huge!"
Ontario Britton's Backyard BattleBot & Popcorn
Ontario Britton in an accomplished programmer based in Dayton, Ohio. His 24th app will go on sale in the Apple Store soon. Britton's current project is a large-scale AR game for a major U.S. theme park. Britton teaches iOS and game development with an Apple gold-level, authorized training center. He did not go halfway with his ARKit demo.
Britton points out that if you combine ARKit with AVDepthData he, "could walk behind real trees and be hidden from the flame throwing robot. The depth info would also let me interact with these trees and let the AR mech do the same. So the robot's flame thrower fire would be stopped by the trees, which are only well detected by a depth sensor."
"For me, the most exciting applications currently are semi-immersive games you can walk around in, like my mech video. It's more convincing than VR for me. But I've had developer friends spitball all kinds of useful, unique commercial applications,” Britton said. “I'm astounded that these guys, who mostly haven't been thinking about AR for years like I do, come up with meaningful uses of ARKit for their apps/companies so quickly. I think that's because ARKit is simple to use and understand, especially in its current, nascent form. It's surely meant to grow from here. You can even see that future growth implied in the code."
According to Britton, "when ARKit is combined with the depth info in the camera feed, you'll get AR content that can be occluded by real world objects. That simply means that in addition to placing AR objects over real world objects, you can also place AR objects under real world objects, which makes for a really seamless experience. So if my AR remote control car scurries away under the couch, the depth information lets the couch occlude the car. It feels like a real part of the environment in that case."
Here are some other Apple AR demos made with ARKit:
Tomas Garcia, Space-X Landing
Mark Dawson, Van Gogh's Bedroom
ARKit from Code & Coffee
ChaiOne's Houston ARkit
HADO by ARKit
Charlie Fink is an executive, writer and consultant with over three decades of experience in media, technology and the intersection between them. As an avid storyteller, entrepreneur, and award winning producer, Charlie has built a career building businesses across industries. With his tenure as an executive in companies such as Disney, Virtual World, and AOL, Charlie has honed an extensive knowledge and expertise.