Apple chief executive Tim Cook has talked about the potential of augmented reality at great lengths in the past. He believes that AR could become as big an opportunity as the iPhone. So, few were surprised when Apple unveiled a new set of tools called ARKit to let developers build augmented reality applications for iOS 11. The AR features are set to arrive with the release of iOS 11 later this year. The software would come pre-installed on the iPhone 8, iPhone 7S, and 7S Plus.
What can you do with AR?
Though existing iPhones and iPads would be able to run the AR applications, it’s the iPhone 8 that will have the necessary hardware to take full advantage of the revolutionary technology. Most people think augmented reality is all about games, probably due to the popularity of AR game Pokemon Go. It is much more than games. There are endless possibilities what you can do with AR.
Virtual reality offers you an immersive experience by cutting you off from the real world. But AR is more real and social. It adds a virtual layer of information to the real world around you. For instance, you could point your iPhone’s camera at a restaurant where the application would pull up its menu and reviews. You can put a virtual cup of coffee on a real table.
You can use AR on your iPhone or iPad while shopping to see how the new pair of shoes looks on you. Companies like Houzz and Lowe’s are already using AR to offer better user experience. You can also use it to see how some furniture or TV fits in your living room. The ARKit for iOS 11 gives developers all the tools they need to build exciting experiences on iDevices.
iPhone 8 to have hardware components for AR
Apple said at WWDC that the ARKit would become the largest AR platform on the planet because it will work on all devices compatible with iOS 11. The iPhone 8 will see the most dramatic redesign in years. As part of its overhaul, the 10th anniversary iPhone will have new 3D sensing modules for facial recognition and augmented reality. LG Innotek, which makes dual camera modules for iPhone 7 Plus, has bagged the order to supply 3D sensing modules for the iPhone 8. Bosch is also working on a variety of sensors for Apple.
The 3D sensor will allow the phone’s cameras to sense depth and understand the 3D space, which is necessary for AR. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says the 3D sensor could be used for a variety of purposes such as taking a 3D selfie and replacing the head of a character in a 3D game. AR will cover everything from chats to photography to 3D gaming to maps to online shopping.
On the back panel, the dual camera system will be arranged vertically rather than horizontally to support AR applications. Leaked iPhone 8 CAD renders show that the LED flash and microphone will also be part of the rear camera bump.
Apple has been investing in AR for years
The Cupertino company has made a number of strategic acquisitions in the AR space to enhance its capabilities. In 2015, it acquired computer vision and machine learning startup Perceptio. Later that same year, it purchased motion sensing firm Faceshift. It has also purchased FlyBy Media, which makes AR camera software, and Metaio, which develops AR software.
It’s not that Apple is relying on acquisitions to develop AR products and services. The tech giant has been developing transparent displays, AR maps, iPhone-powered VR rigs, and AR glasses. In-house developers and software engineers are also working on the visual overlay of graphics and data on different content types. Though Apple is working on AR glasses, the glasses are not expected to arrive before 2019.
According to Bloomberg, the iPhone maker has hundreds of engineers working on AR in Israel. The AR team also includes many people from the iPhone camera team. The team’s goal is to add “AR-related features for the iPhone.” The glasses that would arrive a little later would connect wirelessly to the iPhone to deliver content to the user.
iPhone 8 will lead to a major ‘paradigm shift’
Noted analyst Gene Munster of Loup Ventures told CNBC earlier this year that the 10th anniversary iPhone would lead to a “paradigm shift.” The iPhone 8 will have “augmented reality as its foundation,” said the analyst. It will not just be a catalyst for Apple’s sales for the next few years, but it will lay the foundation for the next revolution in computing.
Munster believes Apple has a significant lead over its rivals in augmented reality. According to Global Market Insights, the augmented reality market is estimated to be worth $165 billion by 2024. In the long run, the AR devices will replace the iPhone, said Munster.
The iPhone 8 will also have other exciting new features such as wireless charging, a bezel-less OLED display, Touch ID integrated into the display, and no physical home button.