Apps like Snapchat, with its facial filters, and the Pokemon Go! game made AR a reality for the masses, but Apple’s ARKit goes way beyond that. Developers can now create AR experiences that offer a whole different level of precision, detail and interactivity - which, I feel is going to be HUGE.
When ARKit was announced at Apple's 2017 WWDC event, I must admit my first thought was “so what - Pokemon Go has been around for months”. Yet when I took a closer look, I realised that Apple had, once again, played its trump card. Having sat back and let all the other players in this market go through the “early adopter” pain, Apple has smashed the technology out of the park by launching the next evolution of augmented reality and opening it up to just about everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean anyone who has access to an iOS device, which in 2016 was estimated to be more than 1 billion devices. So, let’s agree that that is a pretty big audience - all using the same platform.
Why is ARKit different?
The first advantage is probably the most obvious one: any device that runs iOS11 already has all that it needs to take advantage of applications written for ARKit, natively. No additional downloads of specific apps to launch different content for example, it all just works straight off the bat. Think of it as one standard, that everyone is working to. It’s a bit like xAPI or SCORM if you like, which just makes things easy for the end user.
Probably the biggest game changer though is SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping), which makes location mapping accurate to a matter of centimetres, rather than traditional AR’s metres. And that reduction in distance is a VERY big deal.
This makes it possible, for example, to not just place a character on a table, but to actually have it fall off the edge if it went too far. Objects can scale relative to other objects around them, and then keep them in scale as the user walks closer. Basically, digital objects behave much more like real things, which is key to making AR believable, and for it to accepted by the masses.
Let’s not forget that the cameras on modern phones are getting better and better with every annual update too. Tie those two together (inch-accurate mapping and high-quality cameras) and you have a killer application to allow you to find people in a packed office or network event. How cool could this be for induction purposes too? How about leaving a virtual message for a colleague that is “pinned” digitally to their desk?
Real world uses for AR
As you would imagine, most of the early ARKit Apps are being developed for Marketing and Sales uses. Think about it: now with this AR technology, you can see how a framed photo would look on your wall, and what size you should order. Or how about being able to configure your new car, selecting the colour, wheels and window tint, and then seeing how it would look on your drive (or checking to see if it would fit in your garage!)?
Ikea’s “Place” App for example, allows you to not only look at a sofa in a catalogue (or even in an Ikea showroom) but it lets you truly see how that item would look in your own front room. And, thanks to SLAM, you would know pretty quickly if it would actually fit through the door.
The potential for AR is everywhere. How about billboards that come to life as you approach them (surely the future of movie posters)? Imagine these playing a trailer on your phone, and letting you order your tickets from the same device. Or perhaps an ARKit tube map where I can hover my phone over the map and it plots the route I need to take as well as give me an idea of what I can do at each stop with additional information, videos or offers for local restaurants.
ARKit markers will enable all of this. And these markers will be everywhere. They will change the way marketing works - I predict we'll see a growth in “marker filtering” applications too.
ARKit for learning and development?
There are so many advantages of knowing exactly where your learner is and providing relevant information to them at the point of need.
If your staff needs to calibrate a coffee machine, there really is no point in showing the user how to do that until they are standing in front of it and can learn hands on. And what if they don’t know which specific model is in the restaurant? Well, the camera on their device could help with that of course.
Looking to design an extension to a building? Rather than look at a blueprint, let’s virtually roll it out onto the table, and they try different floor coverings, or wallpaper designs to see how it could look.
Learning can become truly discovery too with AR. Imagine an educational app that tells you when you are near a historic place. Point your camera at the hill, and watch a battle unfold there, as it did hundreds of years ago.
And what about accessibility uses? How about activating the camera when someone is speaking to you using sign-language, with the words being shown as sub-titles, translated in real time?
The opportunities are endless, and we are only just getting started. ARKit will change the way we deliver information, and, for us, that means it will change the way we help people to develop.
As I am writing this, pre-orders for Apple’s latest iPhone X have just opened. A £1000 ($1000) computer in your pocket, with facial recognition security features that, despite that eye-watering price, is rumoured to be sold out for many months to come. But it’s Apple’s new announcements at this years’ developer conference that has the potential to be an even bigger hit, and certainly, affect a far wider audience.
Mark Zuckerberg said at the Facebook developers conference in April that "Facebook is making the camera the first augmented reality platform”. I think you’ll find, with ARKit, Apple has fulfilled that promise.
We’d love to hear your ideas on how you could use AR for your L&D needs, so please share your thoughts with us.
Oh, and I suggest bookmarking the Made with ARKit website - it’s a great way to see the latest projects developers are working on. For me, I’m eagerly watching this website for something that will provide a better map experience. Because okay – I admit it – I have a dreadful sense of direction. Am I really the only one that uses a top-down-view map on my phone, and still walks a block or so to see if I am heading in the right direction?! With ARKit, I imagine a world where I just see an arrow trailing off into the distance, and then turning left behind a building. Now, THAT is what I need! Make it nice and easy for me, and when I think about it, that is what AR is all about – making it nice and easy.