THE BLOG

Apple's ARKit Could Make Augmented A Reality

08/06/2017 14:13 BST | Updated 08/06/2017 14:14 BST

Last year's flash hit was Pokemon Go, a smartphone game that captured the imagination of millions of mobile users before quickly losing momentum.

The short-lived super-popularity of the game does tell us a lot about the technology that powered it - Augmented Reality (or AR). While the content of Pokemon Go appealed to swathes of nostalgia-hungry Millennials, the engine behind it, which superimposed computer-generated Pokemon into the real world, was the real flourish.

Almost twelve months later, and the game's user base has shrunk by 90% from its original 1.6 million daily users as initial hype gave way to reveal a somewhat two-dimensional premise - even if the game still generates around $140,000 every day in revenue.

The need for something that reached beyond eye-catching novelty was clearly front of mind when Apple revealed its first real foray into the AR market on Monday at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

Called ARKit, the platform would allow developers to create augmented reality apps on iOS - effectively plugging AR capability into hundreds of millions of devices around the world.

The sheer scale of this is important here, since volume is something that Google and Microsoft's own AR efforts have struggled with.

Tango, Google's software-driven take on augmented reality, arrives in the form of a selection of enhanced apps. However only a very select few devices equipped with an array of cameras and sensors are able to take advantage of the fledgling format. Microsoft's own gambit, a headset called the HoloLens, faces its own barriers to scaling up - retailing at around £2,700, it is simply too expensive for users with a passing interest in the tech.

The ARKit addresses both of these concerns, since developers will be able to tap into Apple's AR tech for what is essentially the price of an iPhone or iPad.

The WWDC also gave the audience an idea of what Apple's AR engine was capable of. While a tabletop battle-scene and a souped-up version of Pokemon Go provided the glamour, it was the promise of real-world applications and capability that offered more than just the giddy head-rush of three-dimensional games.

This is where Apple's offering comes into its own. Augmented Reality has long been teased as the next step in the evolution of technology but, for the most part, it has failed to deliver on pragmatism - or deliver at all, in the case of the much-hyped Magic Leap. Developers have created a number of amazing AR products, but have done so in isolation which reduces their practicality.

When iOS 11 launches later in the year, Apple will instantly command the largest share of the AR market, essentially giving developers a blank canvas onto which their augmented dreams can become reality. This vast, readymade ecosystem may finally give the brains behind AR the chance to show how the 'tech of the future' can operate in the real world.