ARTICLE BY J.C. KUANG

At Apple's hotly-anticipated September 12 event, the name of the game is AR, as the company revealed the latest iterations of the iconic iPhone in the form of the 8, 8 Plus, and X.

The moment of truth has arrived for Apple as it touts its new handsets, especially the X, as “the future of the smartphone." Under the tenure of Tim Cook, Apple has adopted a more forward-thinking, albeit somewhat unpredictable policy of innovation with its handset design. Whether these new directions are viewed as gimmicky or necessary depends on who you ask, but until recently it did not appear that Apple was building to any sort of singular goal, instead content experimenting with idiosyncratic new features every year.

After the latest news regarding the next generation of handsets, however, it is abundantly clear that all of the radical changes in the 8/X line, from a sharp, all-over OLED screen, to a battery of sophisticated internal and external sensors, to the formidable new A11 “bionic” processor, have all been made in the service of delivering an industry-leading (and potentially quite disruptive) augmented reality experience. In 2017, Apple hopes to hit the ground running, and score a tremendous lead in the next XR market cycle.

Apple has not only identified a fertile (and woefully underserved) niche in its pursuit of scalable, accessible AR for the masses but also has gone above and beyond in ensuring that every part of its smartphone ecosystem works in conjunction to achieve this goal. The way that the 8/X line’s hardware, software, and services are able to complement one another to provide a quality, low-latency experience is something that even Google, with its fragmented and compartmentalized production process, can only aspire to achieve in 2017.

Meanwhile, over the last week, leading up to the reveal from Cupertino, the media have been abuzz with impressive demos of ARKit technology. The vast community of developers working in Unity3D and Unreal represent a massive source of potential AR content, while the comparatively wide release of iOS 11 and Apple’s aggressive marketing push should ensure the demand and enthusiasm for AR remains high.

As always, gaming continues to be the most foregrounded application for AR, although social interaction (by way of Animojis) remains close behind. Together, these two are indicative of an impending surge on a potentially global scale of renewed interest in mobile gaming and immersive social media. In particular, companies should pay close attention to Asian markets, in which mobile gaming is poised to grow its already substantial market share. A paradigm shift in gaming platforms could prove seriously disruptive in APAC.

A test from Nexus Studios of an application built with Apple’s ARKit tracking technology on a Cardboard VR headset. (Image by Nexus Studios)

There is cause for excitement at the prospect of 2018 becoming the year of AR, with promises of quality 60fps experiences, 4k textures, and cutting-edge hardware coming out of Cupertino. While Apple’s lead is already substantial and poised to grow further, competitors such as Google could seize an opportunity by piggybacking off of Apple’s own momentum and emphasizing an AR-focused agenda while countering the iPhone X by way of its prohibitive price point. Already, the price has drawn criticism from tech journalists and consumers alike. Smartphone manufacturers that have traditionally occupied lower price points could carry favor with consumers who are tired of constantly spending more and more on a phone. Then again, Apple customers in the past have been notably tolerant of both high price points and bold design changes, complaints notwithstanding.

All things considered, ARKit will prove to be the widest reaching AR platform on the market. It presents a great opportunity for the AR industry as a whole as more consumers experience AR content.