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On June 5th, Apple announced ARKit for iOS 11. An application programming interface (API) aimed at developers of all levels, ARKit is intended to expand AR development to Apple devices using A9 or A10 processors. In Apple's words, it wanted to create "the largest AR platform in the world." Less than two months later, ARKit has already been used to create intriguing software concepts.
Home Design and Retail
Companies like Lowe's and IKEA have been using AR for some time to enhance their retail practices. Beyond the major players, however, the space has been relatively empty. SmartPicture 3D is using ARKit to turn an iPhone into a tape measure. Exact measurements are recorded accurately and instantaneously.
SmartPicture 3D says that it is already integrating this solution into its platform offering. This highlights practical AR that will have mass market appeal. It will not only enhance SmartPicture 3D's offering, but could streamline home design and decoration. It is easy to imagine other company's creating similar solutions to help users decorate their homes and plan for renovations/improvements to personal space.
The second highlighted app was created in hackathon by Twitter user @TheGingerPixel. It creates an AR interface that places retail objects in the home. Using this concept would change how users shop online, allowing them to get a better sense of planned purchases before buying. Integrating this software into a platform like Etsy would greatly enhance smaller/in-home brands' ability to immerse the consumer.
Architecture studio Solidhaus is also using ARKit. The company has created a solution to allow its users to view completed virtual houses in the real world before construction begins.
Viewing VR Creations in the Real World
One of VR's challenges is that outsiders cannot see what the user sees. If a VR user is drawing an object in Tilt Brush, no one outside of that user can see the creation. Before ARKit, even the most impressive VR creations appeared like silly nothings to all those externally viewing the VR experience. NormalVR is a smaller company that until recently has worked primarily in the VR space. Just over a month after ARKit's release, NormalVR developed a way to view VR creations in the real world using an Apple device.
This achievement showcases ARKit's ability to work with existing headset technology, the HTC Vive in this instance. It also brings VR creation more into the real world, removing the social silo that the technology currently sits in. NormalVR's solution is similar to Microsoft Mixed Reality, only without the $3,000 cost of a Hololens.
Positional Tracking for Future Apple Headsets
It is currently unknown as to whether Apple will release a VR headset. Several patents have been filed but so far no product has materialized. Should a HMD be announced, it is likely that it will be using ARKit (or a similar program) to enable positional tracking. Nexus Interactive Arts has already used ARKit to create a prototype positional tracking system for the iPhone 7. The program can maintain 60 FPS, the bare minimum needed to be acceptable on mobile-based VR. The solution is affordable and would allow Apple to enter the mobile-VR market with a clear technological improvement over current offerings like the Samsung Gear or Google Daydream.
The Future of ARKit
ARKit has made a large splash in a short time. The app has demonstrated versatility and flexibility, as well as an intuitiveness that has not been seen before in AR APIs. Part of ARKit's rapid success comes from its large installed base. This is a program that works on more than only the latest hardware. Credit must also be given to the design team at Apple.
ARKit has produced impressive software in less than two months. It will be very interesting to watch what new products and solutions are empowered within its first year.