Apple shows off new AR apps just as Google launches ARCore

The Very Hungry Caterpillar in AR, by Touch Press
Apple, Inc.

Ever since Apple announced ARKit at its annual developers conference earlier this summer, the app-making community has enthusiastically shown off what it has been able to make with the new framework for augmented reality apps. ARKit hasn’t even officially launched yet, and already we’ve seen demos of AR fidget spinners, floating cats, and fancy car configurators on iPhones.

Serious, groundbreaking stuff, right?

But it’s sometimes the fun, toy-like technologies that give way to more serious use cases, which is probably why Apple seems to determined to show off other demonstrations of AR apps that will roll out with iOS 11 next month. Half a dozen app developers gathered on Apple’s campus in Cupertino, Calif. yesterday to demo their upcoming AR apps and talk about their development processes, including big brand names like Ikea, The Food Network, AMC TV, Giphy, and more.

Some app developers, like UK-based Climax Studios and Brooklyn-based Touch Press, talked about how relatively easy it was to create an ARKit app, sometimes in just six to eight weeks. Many talked about the technical capabilities that have been unlocked with ARKit.

But almost all of the developers there said the same thing: it’s Apple’s giant audience, its many millions of iPhone and iPad users, that they think could be the real game-changer in AR. Apple’s pre-arranged gathering of AR app-makers also occurred just as Google is launching ARCore, a new platform for AR app developers that could expand Google’s AR reach in a significant way. If there was ever a moment that marked the real start of the mobile AR platform wars, it’s probably now, and all before the fall hardware season has even begun.

Ikea was on hand at Apple yesterday, and showed off a new AR app for iOS called Ikea Place. It’s a riff on other furniture try-on apps we’ve already seen in AR, whether on Google’s Tango AR platform or in 2D furniture apps. You open up the Ikea app on the iPhone, use the phone’s camera to measure the space around you, and “place” an Ikea furniture item in front of you. You can walk up to the item, get a sense of its size, see materials and texture, and in a future version of the app, you’ll even be able to tap on a virtual sofa to see how big it is when it expands to become a sofa bed.

Ikea Place AR app
Apple, Inc.

Michael Valdsgaard, Ikea’s head of digital transformation, said that the company has been working on 2D AR features for almost five years, but that it developed a new app for ARKit because of reach. “Apple is the one who reaches many people,” he said.

Simon Gardner, the chief executive officer at Climax Studios, concurred. His new AR game for iOS, Arise, creates a virtual puzzle in real space that can only be solved by physically tilting the iPhone or iPad and steering a character through this puzzle. Climax Studios has long dabbled in AR, and created a game called Towers for Tango for Google’s Tango AR platform. Gardner says they’ve also worked on apps for Microsoft’s HoloLens before, though none have published.

The biggest difference between building for those platforms, and building for iOS, is the size of the audience, Gardner said. “You have a potential install base on day one of hundreds of millions of devices.”

The biggest advantage Apple has with ARKit is that AR apps will run on any existing device that’s both equipped with an A9 processor and running iOS 11 software, which is currently still in beta. This means any iPhone 6S or later, or any iPad Pro, will run these AR apps.

Apple also has the advantage of owning the “full stack” in the iPhone and iPad: it controls everything from the iOS software right down to every component in every piece of hardware, which means the experience of how apps run on said devices is tightly controlled as well.

The Food Network’s AR app, In the Kitchen
Apple, Inc.

This means Google’s approach to AR has had to be a very different one, since Android shows up on devices of all sizes and specifications. The company has been working on its AR solution, called Tango, since 2013, and developed specific hardware and software requirements that phone manufacturers would have to adopt in order to support advanced AR. As a result, only two phone models to date, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and Asus ZenFone AR, have shipped with Tango.

But just this morning, Google announced something called ARCore, its equivalent to Apple’s ARKit. It’s a built-in AR platform for app makers, and is available now on Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy 8 phones, with the hopes that it will run on 100 million phones by this winter. This could expand the community for Google AR apps significantly, and The Verge’s Adi Robertson says that the controlled ARCore demo she had at Google’s offices was “one of the best experiences I’ve had with phone-based AR.” Google is also working on two experimental AR web browsers, one that will use ARCore and one that will run on iOS and support ARKit.

Certainly there are some technical advancements happening with Apple’s ARKit that are notable. ARKit enables something called “world tracking,” which, as The Verge’s Robertson has reported before, relies on a technique called visual-inertial odometry. Most AR on phones so far has involved 2D, flat overlays — think Pokémon Go — whereas the kind of AR we’re talking about now is advanced, 3D AR.

AMC’s The Walking Dead AR app, which is called Our World and was developed by Next Games, using an ARKit feature called ARPointCloud that lets developers hide objects in an AR environment and reveal them at a certain point in the experience. This is especially useful in a game like Our World, where walkers (zombies) appear to crawl out of the corners around you, at intervals, as you continue to play the game.

A new Walking Dead AR app, called Our World
Apple, Inc.

Some ARKit apps will incorporate multi-player or collaborative features as well. AMC and Next Games showed off how you’ll be able to invite friends to slay zombies with you in Our World; and the new Giphy AR app, called Giphy World, lets you create an AR environment filled with 3D confetti or cartoon hamburgers or 2D gifs floating around the room, and share a URL with another user who can add more Giphy content to your AR world.

Other ARKit apps might be simpler, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar AR app. A caterpillar inches around the room you’re in; you feed it when you feel like it; and eventually it turns into a butterfly. When you look up through the lens of an iPhone or iPad, it joins the dozens of other butterflies that have been created through previous game plays.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that iPhone and iPad users will be immune to the same problems that plague other advanced AR platforms — the gimmicky apps, the drain on device battery life, and the overall feeling that you’re sometimes using an AR app not because it makes sense but just because it’s a new AR app. These have all been very real barriers to AR becoming more mainstream.

But what will set ARKit apart, according to Barry O’Neill, chief executive officer of Caterpillar app-maker Touch Press, is the “ease of use from a developer perspective and the scale of the audience.”

“Consumers are going to work with AR in a very natural way now,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously said that Google’s ARCore would launch this winter. It’s available on Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy 8 phones now, and Google says it hopes it will run on 100 million devices by this winter.

Comments

Let’s all hope this is a boon to AR developers on all platforms. Gotta admire Google’s nimbleness here but I also have to wonder just how polished is ARCore really vs. their rush to beat Apple to a massive hardware and software release just 2 weeks from now.

It doesn’t really matter. In the long run AR is just going to be useful for specific applications, it’s not "the next big thing" that many technophiles think it is. We’ll see Apps that implement it, a handful of businesses that take advantage of it, but at the end of the day it’ll be just a feature some will adopt when it makes sense, like motion controls or gyroscopes. So there’s really no need for it to be incredibly "polished."

The general public (the mass market) won’t be wearing AR glasses on their faces, niche audiences & a handful of businesses may. And AR will only exist in Apps on people’s phones that have a purpose for them. It’s not gonna be some groundbreaking tech for the general public, it’ll be just another cool new feature in some IKEA or Pokémon App.

This is 2017’s version of "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame."

Comparing it to iPod? Really? Sure, it’ll get you the brownie points but AR is not a "device" it’s a feature implemented in devices. It’ll be in specific games, specific Apps & utilized in specific industries. This is obvious. But this is 2017’s 3D TV. Where a good chunk of you technophiles swore by it and just knew it would take off and improve and everyone would adopt it because of how it’d just exist in everything in 5-10 years. Where the rest of us who had actual foresight, or were otherwise skeptical, saw how premature and underdeveloped the tech was & that the gimmick had no real legs in the mass market.

You’re dead wrong. Some form of AR will eventually replace phones. Absolutely no reason to prefer holding something vs something that will leave your hands free. Eventually AR will replace all screens.

Geez, that sounds like a nightmare. Count me out.

So you genuinely think people will choose to wear glasses on their face vs holding a device? They’d choose to wear something that alters their physical appearance over just using a handheld device? I think it’s short-sighted to believe that will be what the majority would desire. AR glasses don’t provide any fundamentally groundbreaking improvements over what a phone can accomplish aside from it being hands free.

You clearly don’t understand how much people value how they appear. Few people voluntarily wear glasses if they do not have to because it significantly alters their appearance.

Phone’s will also always be more powerful & good luck with taking an AR selfie & more simple tasks every human loves. You think people are going to buy their family of 4/5 all AR glasses to watch the latest movie together on a couch staring at blank wall? Really? Replace all screens? I swear technophiles are incredibly short-sighted & narrow-minded sometimes. Not an insult, just a fact. You guys tend let your passion/excitement for the tech you love overshadow reality.

I’m not saying AR will have no place in society, it certainly will. But this is NO iPod, this is NO electric car, this is NO iPhone. It’s a feature that will find its usefulness in specific markets for specific types of people & specific applications.

You could have said the exact same thing about smartphones 10 years ago. The comments you make seem quite shortsighted as well.

Also, people wear sunglasses all the time. And you’re clearly not familiar with people who actually do choose to wear glasses without prescription purely for style or specific look – or those who choose not to wear contacts if they do need prescription.

I think it is far too early for any one person to say which way this tech will go. Such opinions are rather meaningless.

Cliff House in Windows Mixed Reality AR/VR is better than 1000 sqft apartment just sayin

You could have said the exact same thing about smartphones 10 years ago.

WTF? How? No you could not. 10 years ago people were using smartphones! iPhone just popularized it. Smartphones did not change your appearance. The Sidekick did not alter how my face appeared. Blackberry’s existed, Windows phones existed. iPhone redefined the smartphone & made it commonplace. It wasn’t an accessory for your face, it was a device that allowed you to better connect with people & the internet. You clearly have NO idea what you’re talking about in terms of timeline.

AR glasses are not connecting you "better" to people nor the internet. They are providing an alternative way to experience the internet & connect to others. Smartphones GRANDLY enhanced how people connected. Cellphones, in general did. The telephone before it did as well. AR glasses do not provide any fundament benefits over what a smartphone can accomplish. It just remaps some of its features & obstructs your vision, requiring you to wear a product that immediately alters how you are perceived.

Also, people wear sunglasses all the time. And you’re clearly not familiar with people who actually do choose to wear glasses without prescription purely for style or specific look – or those who choose not to wear contacts if they do need prescription.

Do you have trouble understanding english. "Few people voluntarily wear glasses if they do not have to because it significantly alters their appearance." How the hell does that equate to me NOT BEING FAMILIAR???? How Sway? Is FEW not a quantitative word? Is it not representative of something numeric in value? I was & am CLEARLY aware that people wear sunglasses & that people choose to wear glasses for style. That still represents FEW!

Take a gander at the world when you’re walking through it, MOST people are not wearing spectacles unless they have to. The few people who do are the exception. It’s also beholden of you to understand that just because people wear glasses it doesn’t mean they want a computer on their face. In the same way most people who wear watches, don’t own modern day smartwatches & won’t ever. Because there is little to no inherent benefit for the AVERAGE person in wearing them. They serve specific types of people, not the general population.

Glasses also change your cosmetic appearance FAR more than a watch does & with the countless styles & variations people prefer.. it’d be a costly endeavor to try and appease to the tastes of those in the general population who do choose to wear or have to wear glasses.

IT’S CLEAR YOU JUST AREN’T THINKING OF ALL SIDES.

I hate having conversations like this with people like you. You don’t understand people. You just don’t.. so its like talking to a defensive brick wall.

Also few people are questioning how we will interface with these AR glasses. You genuinely think average humans are going to be poking at the air while they walk down the street or tapping on an object or giving up their privacy by yelling out what YouTube video they want to be shown or swiping un-intuitively on their glasses? How are they going to text? You think people want to speak out their sext to their new boo-thing they’re trying to smash tonight or speak out private info about a family members health for others to hear while they’re sitting at starbucks? NO! They’re going to use a device that gives them the feeling of privacy. They’re going to type that shit. They’re going to search YouTube the better & more convenient way, by typing in what they want to see. People like you do not think practical!

And you can spare me with AR contact lenses. You aren’t even trying to figure out how the technology would fit & power itself on a hair follicle thin nickel/dime sized lens. How incredibly underpowered that device would be compared to a handheld device. We haven’t even figured out how to mass produce more efficient battery technology & we aren’t even close to, but you wanna try and talk about an AR contact lenses. Get out of your imagination. They’re fun concepts but impractical in application for the mass market. You sound like the people who thought Minority Report’s hand gesture displays would actually be how the average person interacts with computers in the future. NO, it’s not. That technology & technologies like AR serve only specific markets, specific types of people for specific applications. NOT the general public.

It’s not too early for anyone to say how tech will go. It’s called having foresight, which most people do not have. It calls for having an understand of how society works & has always worked even before modern technology. How humans work. How much of a role appearance & image matters to most people. It requires outrospection (not a word but it should be). It requires an understanding that, no offense, you do not have.

I fully believe AR will make an impact in this world but it WILL NOT be via glasses average consumers buy, at all. It’s nobodies next iPhone or electric car. It’ll be a much more targeted & direct feature for specific people, businesses & industries.

I never mentioned AR contact lenses, perhaps you are the one with English problems.

The reason I mentioned sunglasses, is because not only a few, but in fact most people, will choose to wear something on their face (aka alter their appearance) in order to adapt more functionality (i.e. the ability to see in bright sunlight – and many others). I don’t think much else needs to be said for that.

10 years ago, during the rise of the current smartphones, people were appalled at phablets like the original Galaxy Note – there’s a reason why they were nicknamed phablets. They looked dorky, unnecessary, and yes, when it use, altered the appearance of the user. Fast forward to today, and even normal phones are bigger or as big as the original Note. It doesn’t look out of place anymore and nobody bats an eye (except perhaps at the price).

That aside, it’s incredibly difficult for anyone to say which way tech will go. I’ll simply use some examples – you would expect people working at highly successful tech companies to be experts at figuring out what tech products the mass population will buy into – this is obvious since it’s literally their job. But even Google, Apple, MS, Amazon, FB, etc have made plenty of missteps with their products. Some once highly successful companies can even be completely demolished from not seeing what tech or designs will make a successful product (i.e. Blackberry, Nokia). So for you to assume you’d be able to aptly (and so obviously) divinate the future of AR is simply hubris at best, and delusion at worst.

As for questioning how we’d interact with AR, it seems like you’re actually to one not questioning. You’ve imagined almost the most obvious and worst scenarios in how AR could be applied. Pretty standard fare that you’ve been shown in movies and tv shows. Thank god our IRL products aren’t designed by set designers and CGI artists. It seems your opinions are shallow defensive brick walls themselves, with lack of actual thought on how AR interfaces could be designed to replace our current devices and input methods – simply latching on to other people’s (and non-experts at that) interpretation of the technology. You’ve only thought of your side…or rather, you’ve only seen one side, absorbed them as your thoughts, and haven’t even bothered to consider how those problems could be circumvented.

Technically that can’t happen, unless we get implants, a website directly in your face on the street would be dangerous. I think real estate and showrooms (car dealerships), and possible stay at home businesses will benefit, hell the army already uses it

also have to wonder just how polished is ARCore really vs. their rush to beat Apple to a massive hardware and software release just 2 weeks from now.

They’re definitely not going to beat Apple to market with their ARKit copycat. iOS 11 is coming out next month, with at least half a billion AR-ready devices on day one. ARCore will be out on two phones "by this winter," which could be as late as next March. It will be years before Android has even 10% as many AR capable devices as Apple. Remember, nearly 30% of Android users are still running Lollipop from 2014! Only 13% are running Nougat from last year. Apple is way ahead on this one.

I just got a new iPad Pro 12.9". Should make AR pretty cool on it. A large window into a room. Can’t wait to give it a try.

ARCore has likely been in the works for a while. You can’t build what Google just released in the 2 weeks since ARKit was revealed. 13% of a larger install base is a significant amount, and your claim that it will be "years" before Android has "10%" as many ARCore devices as ARKit devices is blind fanboyism.

Really? Only 13% of current Android phones run the software required for ARCore, and many of those don’t have the hardware specs to support it. It’s currently only available as a "preview" on two phone models, with only a handful more by "winter," which could be as late as next March. Every iPhone and iPad since 2015 is ARKit compatible, and next month Apple is launching 3 new ARKit compatible phones which will likely sell 100 million or more units before Google even has ARCore on half a dozen phone models. Apple has a HUGE head start, and their growth curve will be faster for at least a couple of years due to the extremely SLOOOOW rollout of new Android OS versions, and a predominance of cheap crap hardware.

They’re definitely not going to beat Apple to market with their ARKit copycat. iOS 11 is coming out next month, with at least half a billion AR-ready devices on day one.

You might yet be right on overall numbers, but ARCore is already here.

Is it? The article says it will be on the Pixel and the S8 "by winter." ARKit has been in developers’ hands since June.

I see that the article has been edited since I read it earlier. It now says there is a "preview" available for the Pixel and S8. But Apple just released their 8th beta of iOS 11, and the ARKit SDK has been available to developers since June.

So you’re saying they’re both being unveiled in the same relative time period which means they’ve BOTH been under construction for a while now and neither one is a copycat of the other?

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