Virtual reality is on its way to a broader audience as mobile VR platforms get more abundant and cheaper, but that doesn't mean another similar technology can't start making waves.
More liberal usage of augmented reality is almost certain, as two of the biggest tech firms in the world push for it. Google, for its part, has now unveiled its proprietary ARCore toolkit, and Apple has also now showcased the first sampling of apps developed under its ARKit. Ultimately, both serve as inroads in making AR the next big thing in mobile.
First up, Google's AR toolkit:
ARCore serves as Google's second attempt at a dedicated AR platform after Project Tango, which has been minimally used at best. It made the SDK available for download today via a blog post alongside a set of ARCore demos.
In a way, ARCore looks more versatile than Tango in terms of what they require. Tango, on one hand, needs special sensors and cameras to work. ARCore, on the other hand, performs its magic through software, which means it's compatible with more Android phones, even those without sophisticated hardware. This in mind, it makes sense why Google calls it "augmented reality at Android scale."
The SDK's capabilities include motion tracking, which uses the device's camera to "observe feature points" in a given room; environmental understanding, which allows the user to place AR objects on their surroundings; and light estimation, which lets developers light their virtual objects in a way that corresponds to the ambient lighting of a given scene.
These are just the three things ARCore focuses on — for now. It's easy to imagine that with developers flocking toward Google's AR toolkit, more capabilities and AR integration will be added.
For the time being, the SDK is only available for Pixel phones and the Samsung Galaxy S8, but Google says by the time version 1.0 rolls around, ARCore apps will be available to over 100 million users around the world.
Apple ARKit Apps
Apple CEO Tim Cook is a big fan of AR. He genuinely thinks it's the next big thing in mobile, so that means Apple must be hard at work developing it — and when Apple does something, many follows. Removing the headphone jack is one example of this.
Expect the same ripple effect when it comes to AR.
Apple just showed off AR apps to look forward to in time for iOS 11, seen as a major upgrade for its mobile devices. Here are some of them in brief detail:
• Ikea Place: Imagine pointing your phone around the house and laying down some virtual furniture, like an interior design test drive. This is exactly what the Ikea Place app does, letting users try before they buy. Place couches, bookcases, chairs, lounges, and more.
• Giphy World: Ever dreamt of seeing GIFs in real life? Well, with Giphy World, you can. Place animated GIFs on people, places, things, and share them with friends.
• Arise: From Climax Studios, Arise lets users place a full 3D world onto a tabletop. You'll navigate this world by moving your phone and changing perspectives. Yep — no onscreen buttons at all.
• The Very Hungry Caterpillar AR: This app is a simple AR adaptation of a popular children's book, but it also represents AR as a storytelling platform, similar to VR. TechCrunch calls it "cute, clever, and just interactive enough" for little ones.
Some developers say creating apps with ARKit is very quick — around seven to 10 weeks. Asset-heavy games will, of course, take more time, but the great thing is developers don't have to worry about the time and effort involved in creating AR content because Apple makes it seems relatively easy.
All told, it's obvious we can't know for sure if AR is ever going to be a big thing, but with Apple and Google pushing for it at this level, it might just be.