What it is: Apple released ARKit at their developer’s conference to pave the way for augmented reality apps from third-parties.
There’s a lot of confusion on what virtual reality and augmented reality are good for. Generally, virtual reality is great when you want to stay in a limited space and need to immerse yourself completely in an artificial world such as training simulations. Flight simulators are a crude sort of virtual reality system that works perfectly well, although you don’t see similar simulators used in public because it’s too expensive and bulky.
Virtual reality headsets are fine for limited use as well, but nobody’s going to carry a virtual reality headset with them at all times on the off chance they might need it. That’s where augmented reality comes in because you can view it on an iPhone or iPad. The demonstrations of augmented reality and the current use with Pokemon GO are fairly trivial. Where the real focus will come is creating augmented reality apps such as mapping directions.
Most likely, Apple will introduce its own augmented reality apps on the next iPhone, which will also work on the iPhone 7 and later and the iPad Pro and later. By seeing Apple’s own augmented reality apps, you’ll get a better idea how augmented reality can be useful instead of just a gimmick.
One likely use for augmented reality will come from the Map app and possibly an indoor mapping app that shows you directions in an airport or museum. The regular Map app will show you street names and landmarks on a map as you drive.
In case you’re wondering, one huge reason why Apple needed its own Map app and not rely on Google Maps wasn’t just to take control of its own apps, but to gather mapping data for augmented reality. Without its own map app, Apple wouldn’t be able to add augmented reality to a third-party mapping app. When Apple acquires or develops its own technology, it’s not just to replace an existing third-party solution but to plan for the long-term future.
Think of Apple’s latest move away from graphics processors to its own in-house graphics processor. That’s not just to get rid of a third-party dependence but to plan ahead. Graphics processors are useful for machines learning and that’s why Apple needs its own in-house graphics processor technology so it can customize its chips for machine learning and artificial intelligence.
In the augmented reality world, the introduction of augmented reality apps on the next iPhone (iOS 11) will drastically change the smartphone market. If you want augmented reality, you’ll have to get an iPhone or iPad. If you want an inferior augmented reality framework that only works on a handful of Android smartphones and tablets, then you can stick with an Android device.
Because so few Android devices will be able to use augmented reality, people will either upgrade to an Android device that does support augmented reality or switch to an iPhone. Most likely people will do both and some may upgrade from an old iPhone to a newer Android smartphone as well. However, Apple’s augmented reality solution will be more refined at the start and that will give it a huge head start with less hassle for most people. Expect augmented reality to be a limited feature on Android devices, limited mostly to high-end devices that cost nearly as much as an iPhone. That means if people want augmented reality, they’ll likely choose an iPhone.
This fall will be a crucial time for the iPhone. Augmented reality offers a software feature that will be difficult for rivals to duplicate. First, you need the software framework from Google. Then you need the hardware support from companies like Samsung and HTC. Since hardware specifications differ, it will be harder for Google to optimize their augmented reality software to work with so many different hardware platforms. That will just make augmented reality even harder and less refined on Android.
Augmented reality will separate the iPhone from Android as much as the original touch screen interface separated the iPhone from Blackberry, Nokia, and Microsoft. Augmented reality is the next killer app for smartphones and it will be difficult for rivals to catch up when it arrives.