Apple is going all-in with augmented reality. The futuristic technology, which makes virtual objects appear as if they’re in the real world, has got CEO Tim Cook excited about the possibilities. In an interview, Cook suggested an Ikea app that lets you preview furniture before you buy, but the possiblites could stretch well beyond that.
iOS 11, an upcoming software update Apple announced last month, will enable developers to easily create their own apps using ARKit, a set of tools than mean developers don’t need to build their own augmented reality systems from scratch, instead taking advantage of Apple’s existing research. Some of the initial projects based on the kit look fantastic.
While developers have been playing with a beta version of ARKit, these apps are currently running on iPhones that are less than suitable for augmented reality. Almost all of them use a single camera lens and depend on the software to interpret how far away objects are, which is then used to transport virtual objects onto the camera feed. It works — Pokémon Go successfully places Pokémon in the real world — but it means the phone is doing a lot of guesswork, and sometimes it gets it wrong.
The iPhone 8, expected to launch this fall, could dramatically improve these apps. The phone is rumored to include a 3D laser scanning system that will bounce a beam around the room and tell the device how far away objects are, meaning the phone doesn’t have to guess. On top of that, the iPhone 8 is expected to include the iPhone 7 Plus dual camera system, which currently supplies depth data to the phone’s Portrait Mode feature to blur the background in photos and produce professional camera-like shots.
For now, developers have come up with some ingenious uses for ARKit and augmented reality. Here are 12 of the best.
Virtual reality studio Normal has created an impressive painting demo that combines an iPad running the iOS 11 beta with a HTC Vive virtual reality kit. In the video, the user wearing the Vive is using wireless controllers to paint an image. On the iPad, an animated figure matches the brush strokes and replicates the image inside the office space.
During the announcement of ARKit at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, game development studio Wingnut AR demonstrated an awe-inspiring virtual battlefield that could serve as the start of a real-time strategy game. The demo used Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, the same underpinnings used in blockbuster games, to create a fight between opposing forces on the table in front. Although the demo itself was non-interactive, it showed what’s possible through future implementations with more development time.
SmartPicture, which specializes in room- and object-measuring technologies, has created an ARKit app that can replace the standard tape measure. Simply point the phone at the beginning and end of the distance you want to measure, and the app does the rest. The same technology can be used to generate entire floor plans:
Jacqui Hyslop, a mobile developer at Redbubble, produced an ARKit-powered demo of a future company app. Redbubble sells independent artists’ designs on a number of objects like pillows and phone cases, and Hyslop’s app enables shoppers to view these products in their home before they buy.
Bjarne Lundgren, lead mobile developer at TV2 in Denmark, has produced an augmented reality app that recalls the video game Portal, as it lets users step through virtual doors into bizarre new environments. It’s the sort of immersive experience normally associated with virtual reality headsets, but this demo shows how augmented reality could offer similar trips into strange new worlds:
Glen Rhodes, a software developer that worked on the original Sony PlayStation, has produced an app that transports users to another time. In the short clip uploaded to YouTube, Rhodes is seen walking near a body of water, using his phone to look out and see the Titanic in all its former glory.
Sitting comfortably? Alper Guler, a manager for virtual reality holding company The Glimpse Group, has demonstrated how ARKit on iPhone could transform dining out. Choose a dish, point your food at the table, and preview how it looks before you order.
iOS developer “krutosh” has created a simple iPhone app that shows the future potential of augmented reality for schools and revision. The planets appear as floating orbs within the living room, transporting the user into the farthest depths of the solar system.
Watching basketball on the couch is one thing, but wouldn’t it be cool if you could move around the court and freely watch from any angle? Developer Ying Gao Xuan has produced a demo of how future sports games could look, with two players battling it out on a blue square drawn on the floor. It’s just one of the many future entertainment possibilities.
Jelmer Verhoog, a user experience designer from Oslo, has created an app that lets you preview the Tesla Model 3 in your garage before purchasing. The app, which could see a final release if the company approves, allows for a number of customization options to preview your future car in full.
Lundgren has also produced a version of tic-tac-toe that places three-dimensional pieces on the ground in front of you. The app demonstrates how multiplayer games can benefit from the freedom that augmented reality provides.
Get ready to flood your office floor with virtual water. Immersion VR has produced a virtual battleship game, complete with cannons and flames emanating from the ships. It looks like great fun, and could easily turn into a regular lunchtime distraction.
These are only the beginning, and the iPhone 8 gives developers a chance to push augmented reality further. When iOS 11 launches this fall, we can expect to see more uses for augmented reality as developers get to grips with the tools.