Apple Unveils ARKit
A number of exciting new developments and updates have been announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2017 (WWDC 2017), including new versions of macOS, iOS, and watchOS platforms, as well as a new iPad Pro tablet, and the HomePod connected speaker device. And this year we’ll see Apple’s most popular platform, powering the iPhone and iPad, including ARKit for augmented reality apps.
Apple and Augmented Reality
Though Apple has been relatively quiet in the augmented reality space to date, CEO Tim Cook mentioned last year that the company was investigating it and that it could be a big growth area. Third-party apps such as Snapchat and Pokémon Go incorporated AR capacities, but Apple’s hardware and software hadn’t specifically been built to enable it. This is all changing with the unveiling of ARKit.
ARKit for the new iOS 11 was introduced during the opening keynote of WWDC 2017 and promises to bring augmented reality apps to compatible iPads and iPhones by allowing developers to control surface detection, motion tracking, ambient light scaling capabilities via the camera, GPU, and CPU, while also supporting SceneKit, Unity, and Unreal Engine. There will additionally be the offerings of machine learning, face tracking, photo recognition, and natural language capabilities. Some apps are already making use of these new features, including Lego and IKEA, while Pokémon Go has been enhanced with some of these functions. Notably, Facebook and Google have too publicized AR platforms recently, but Apple is calling ARKit the “largest AR platform in the world.”
Demonstrating the power of ARKit, the new development company founded by Peter Jackson, Wingnut AR, provided an animated scene rendered by Unreal Engine 4 of a post-apocalyptic outpost. The scene covered an entire table, and Wingnut AR’s Alasdair Coull exhibited the augmented reality tech to great effect with enemy aircraft flying in and dropping bombs on the outpost, while the outpost residents ran around the table either fleeing or fighting, and one poor villager jumped right off the edge of the table. It’s expected that this demo will be released later in the year as a full game.
Since ARKit will enable augmented reality features on devices already in the market, Apple is quickly entering the fray on a very large scale. iOS 11 will support iPads Air, mini 2 and up, as well as iPhones 5S and SE and up, offering a huge already-active user base the chance to engage. Augmented reality professionals believe ARKit will make the move into AR far easier for consumers who are already familiar with the popular Apple technology, and it’s expected that AR ecosystems will grow around products to enable enhanced capabilities and potentials for the Apple AR facets. In the beta version, ARKit will only detect horizontal planes, and so matching the depth sensing or spatial mapping of Tango or HoloLens is still some time away; no doubt, however, we can expect rapid advances should the technology be well-liked and generally accepted.
Along with Apple TV’s addition of Amazon Prime Video to its content, the latest version of watchOS promising customization through machine learning, new fitness features, and greater third-party gadget compatibility, and new iPad-specific features, Apple’s venture into augmented reality confirms that the brand will continue to explore cutting edge technologies while providing the vast range of users with the user-friendly and accessible features that have made their products so popular.
By Jennifer Klostermann