Apple’s commitment to augmented reality has picked up the pace, with the company using its annual developer conference to showcase a number of upgrades to the ARKit platform.

ARKit 2 is the third major AR update to the platform since its launch in 2017 as part of iOS 11, and gives developers a set of tools to create AR experiences for Apple’s mobile operating system that will “change the way iOS users see the world in both fun and productive ways,” the company said. With the newest update, developers can now build multi-user experiences that can be shared between separate mobile devices.

The AR platform now includes support for image detection and tracking, which will make it easier for users to detect 3D objects such as toys and sculptures. ARKit 2 will not only integrate shared and persistent experiences that are tied to a specific location but also include the option to apply reflections of the real world onto AR-generated objects.

In addition, Apple has also collaborated with Disney’s Pixar to create a new AR file format based on the latter's Universal Screen Description asset. USDZ has been optimized to encourage sharing in apps like Messages, Mail, Files, News and the Safari Browser, which will mean that users will be able to place shared 3D objects into the physical world from their own device.

Apple Is Excited About Augmented Reality

Apple's enthusiasm for augmented reality was evident on stage in San Jose, with the now standard "live" demos showcasing some intriguing capabilities that included an AR Lego experience which combined both physical bricks and digital characters drawn from the Lego universe.

“Shared experiences with ARKit 2 make AR even more engaging on iPhone and iPad, allowing multiple users to play a game or collaborate on projects like home renovations,” Apple said, in a press release. “Developers can also add a spectator mode, giving friends and family the best views of AR gameplay from a different iOS device.”

Apple's senior vice president of software Craig Federighi also demoed “Measure” on stage, a new AR app in iOS 12 that can quickly gauge the size of real-world objects and provides the viewer with what is essentially a virtual tape measure. A bonus feature is that the app automatically generates diagonal measurements and allows people to take photos of, say, guitars or posters from a website and see how they would look in a physical setting.

Apple is not only incredibly excited by the consumer engagement possibilities of AR but also, according to Federighi, the opportunities that ARKit 2 will give developers to seamlessly mix the virtual and real worlds through powerful graphics and animation. For example, persistent AR will mean that people can interact with virtual objects such as AR-generated puzzles over a period of weeks, without the need to start over every time.

Android Fragmentation Gives Apple An AR Advantage

Tim Cook has publicly stated that he has a preference for augmented reality apps, citing last year that AR isn’t isolating as one of the reasons for Apple’s investment into the technology. Apple can also lay claim to being the largest AR platform in the market, thanks to the 81 percent of existing smartphones and tablets that support the original ARKit release via iOS 11.

By comparison, Google's ARCore, which runs on the most recent version of Android (Oreo), is only installed on less than 6 percent of devices, according to the latest Android Developers Blog. With that in mind, Android's device fragmentation is a good reason why Cook and the Apple developer community can be confident that consumer support for and awareness of AR will be driven by Apple devices.

Both ARKit 2 and USDZ are part of the iOS 12 developer preview that is available from June 4, and accessible to members of the Apple Developer Program. The general public will get support for these tools and apps in the fall when the annual software update to iOS is released to iPhone 6s and newer.