The AR revolution will come not with a bang, but a tape measure. At least, that seems to be the lesson so far from ARKit, Apple’s new augmented-reality platform.
ARKit lets developers build AR apps—which integrate digital experiences into the physical world via iPhone or iPad, a la Pokemon Go. Those apps will be available to consumers when iOS 11 arrives in September. But developers have started tinkering—creating tools that let you see how furniture fits in a room, or quickly calculate the area of your kitchen. Compared to the likes of Magic Leap or Google Glass, these apps are simple, almost trivial. But that smallness might be precisely what makes them so potentially huge.
Matthew Miesnieks, a VC who led a team researching AR within Samsung,1 calls ARKit “the biggest thing that’s happened to the AR industry since it began,” and he’s not alone in his enthusiasm. By getting AR in the hands of millions of iPhone users, Apple is poised to become the world’s most powerful and popular purveyor of augmented-reality apps. And by opening up its developers’ kit, it’s powering hundreds of experiments into what, precisely, this medium is good for.
Apple unveiled ARKit at its developers’ conference in June. Like most AR demos, Apple’s promised that AR could introduce its users to another layer of existence, turning an iPhone into “a lens into a virtual world.” One featured app let users watch a Goldilocks story play out on a kid’s bedspread. Another placed a Lego Batwing on a coffee table. During the keynote, a representative from Peter Jackson’s production company looked through an iPad to display a space war taking place on an otherwise empty tabletop.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to have airship battles like this in your own living room?” he asked.
This kind of language was familiar to anyone who had been paying attention to other AR innovators. Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz foresees a world in which “whales jump out of gymnasium floors” and…