New iPhones may spur a surge in augmented reality

The runaway success of “Pokemon Go” last year taught the world at least two things. One: Lots of people love Pokemon. And two: Creating good augmented reality – the kind that superimposes 3-D objects into the real world and convinces people they’re actually chasing a Pikachu – is really, really hard.


“It’s not so hard that it’s impossible,” said Jeff Kelley, an iOS developer at app design and development firm Detroit Labs. “But it’s hard enough that you’re probably not going to get a return on your investment.”

Previously, if developers wanted to add augmented reality to an app, first they’d have to spend months building their own tools and performing a bunch of math to calculate how a 3-D object should look when light hits it from different angles, and how it interacts with real-world objects, Kelley said.

That high barrier to entry will all but disappear when iOS 11 launches Sept. 19 with AR Kit, a set of developer tools that takes out the hardest part of developing augmented reality experiences for the iPhone.

“As a developer, you don’t have to do all the hard math stuff to get it to work,” Kelley said. “The minimum time investment now goes way down.”

That means there soon could be a surge in the number of apps that feature augmented reality experiences, exposing more people to a technology that was once considered the purview of hardcore geeks.

Despite the enormous popularity of “Pokemon Go” last year, only 31 percent of Americans know what augmented reality is, according to a survey conducted in July by Skrite, a startup that makes a social augmented reality app.

As with its more immersive cousin, , tech companies have for years tried to bring augmented reality to the mainstream, with little success. Google’s infamous Google Glass – a head-mounted display – was a flop that drew criticism over its conspicuous design and…

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