On Monday, Apple doubled down on its enthusiasm for blending the digital and physical world in augmented reality, which CEO Tim Cook clearly thinks is going to be huge in the future.
During the Worldwide Developers’ Conference on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the new macOS will arrive with software designed to make it easier for people to create VR content, known as ARKit. Even though the company stopped short of outright unveiling any new VR-related hardware. ARKit is a big step for Apple — and one it’s been trying to take for a while, based on Cook’s past comments.
“There’s no substitute for human contact,” Cook said last year. AR, Cook argued, can provide a middle-ground that allows people to interact with digital tools and environments without picking them up and placing them in an environment that is entirely synthetic. ”You want the technology to amplify [the experience], not to be a barrier.”
To that end, ARKit, available for iOS 11, will follow the general guidelines of most Apple products — a friendly app that both novices and experts can use to and leverage into creating AR works that are small and simple, or widely complex.
The app works by harnessing the iPhone’s (or iPad’s) camera technology and motion sensors to perfect motion tracking and plane estimation, to allow users to modify existing environments onscreen with artificial objects. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, showed off a simple demo where he placed and moved around an artificial lamp and coffee cup on a table, and illustrated how the objects accurately reflect changes in lighting and distance. Another demo showed off how ARKit could create sharper graphics for Pokemon Go!
And make no mistake: Apple is serious about ensuring AR content makers can make insanely detailed digital environments. The company showed off a demo developed by director Peter Jackson’s Wingnut AR studio, which created the demo using Unreal Engine. (ARKit will support Unreal, along with Unity and SceneKit). The demo was of an fictional extraterrestrial base for human colonists, which is soon under attack by hostile parties.
As you can see, the demo shows off an incredible detailed simulation that hews closely to what one might expect from a video game — except this is all occurring on a single platform, in front of everyone.
Apple’s goal is to make ARKit “the largest AR platform in the world,” Federighi told WWDC attendees. In making ARKit an app focused around iOS devices, Apple might actually realize that goal.