Ever since becoming the chief executive of Apple Inc., Tim Cook hasn’t stopped talking about various technological advances, including artificial intelligence, driverless cars, and streaming television. But in his own confession, none of these technologies has had him fired up like augmented reality has.
Although he has been dropping subtle hints regarding augmented reality for some time now, Apple has finally made their entrance into the AR market during the Worldwide Developers Conference hosted in San Jose.
Having in mind that Tim Cook has called AR an idea as big as the smartphone, it’s safe to say that Apple’s announcement can be considered AR’s stepping stone into the mainstream.
Unlike virtual reality (VR), where users are completely immersed into a computer-generated world they can interact with, AR brings digital content into users’ field of view by superimposing it over the real world. This is normally accomplished using a mobile device or a dedicated headset and it allows users to experience an enhanced version of the real world and their immediate surrounding.
Cook himself has already stated that AR is better than VR simply due to the fact that people don’t have to separate themselves from reality for a long period of time and instead, they can enjoy their everyday lives in a new, interesting way.
This is all made possible by Apple new developer framework called ARKit, which will become available with the iOS 11. In short, ARKit allows content creators to produce augmented reality apps for iPad and iPhone. Mundane apps that normally use 2d images to tell their stories will not be able to overlay digital content into the real world for a more immersive experience. Instead of focusing on a device-specific approach, Apple wants to pair augmented reality with its existing line of iOS devices already owned by the public.
Filling the AR void
This move into the AR field has many people on the edge of their seats. Not only will developers finally get their hands on tools needed to incorporate various augmented reality features into their apps and there are no additional costs besides having an iPad or an iPhone. This adds new possibilities to an already established market and although Google and Microsoft are already dabbling with AR, Apple seems to be filling in the void in a way no other companies are.
During the presentation, Apple has shown how the ARKit architecture improves the performance of existing apps such as Pokémon Go. But what had the audience completely blown away was the Wingnut AR, a table-top augmented reality experience rumored to become Apple’s first AR game. Besides gaming, an ARKit-equipped iPad was used to scan a document, which only shows that Apple has their sights set on more than just games and demonstrates a practical use of their new framework in application development.
Setting aside gaming and entertainment, AR can also have a more practical application in the industrial, military and medical fields. Industrial designers will have the opportunity to experience their product’s design and operation before they are fully assembled and complete. The military could use AR on transparent displays to show valuable data such as altitude, longitude, and latitude or even enemy location in real time. Surgeons could finally have information such as blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels directly in their life of sight and use that information to guide their efforts.
Shoppers could view themselves in augmented reality mirrors to see how a specific piece of clothing looks on them or check how new furniture will match the rest of the room without having to physically interact with it. Various brands including Disney, Nivea, and Toyota have all added AR to their advertising strategies and use it to provide their customers with a real-time experience of their new lines of products.
Wearables, however, are a completely different story. Most current AR and VR solutions are bulky and rather expensive for the average Joe. Not to mention that Google has tried to conquer the wearable ecosystem with Google Glass and failed magnificently. This does not mean that Apple isn’t developing their own line of AR headsets, but rather that the company is simply patiently waiting for other companies to test out the water before diving in head first and showing how it’s supposed to be done.