At WWDC 2017 Apple announced their official entry into the Mixed Reality fray, but unlike Microsoft, Magic Leap, Facebook and others they did not take the head mounted display route but relied instead on using their installed base of iPads and iPhones and some clever processing to overlay objects intelligently on the real world.
The advantage of this approach is that it makes use of devices users already have, meaning developers who use their ARKit to create applications will have an instant installed base of several hundred million users.
The disadvantage is that they will all look like the above gentleman in the pink shirt when using the applications.
ARKit offers developers technology which recognises surface, estimates scale and ambient light and support proven 3D graphics tools such as Unity, Unreal Engine, and would also support SceneKit. It offers fast and stable motion tracking using the camera in the iPhone or iPad, and the sensors such as gyroscope and accelerometers in your device.
It would require no external markers but of course the field of view would be limited to the size of your screen, and if it is the iPhone this would probably be pretty Hololens-like unless held very close to the eye.
As part of the next version of iOS, Apple’s Craig Federighi called ARkit “the largest AR platform in the world,” but I suspect in its current iteration it does not bring much new to the table. Augmented Reality apps have of course existed for ages on the iPhone, and ARKit would simply make it easier for developers to create more performant apps.
Apple’s platform will, of course, compete with Microsoft’s own Windows Mixed Reality efforts, which will soon be supported by a wave of VR headsets at relatively low prices. When comparing the platforms Apple’s advantage is the larger installed base and more engaged developers, with mobile devices that will be used out in the real world, but Microsoft will likely benefit from a better quality experience, more powerful PC-based hardware and integration with Project Scorpio.
The real danger, however, is if ARKit is merely used to seed the field for Apple’s long rumoured Augmented Reality headset, which will likely be able to use the same apps as already developed for the iPhone. That showdown will likely have to wait for the end of 2018 or 2019 at the earliest however.
Do our readers think Microsoft’s Mixed Reality efforts will be iPhoned? Let us know below.