Augmented reality or AR has been on the market and part of our lives for years. But it wasn’t taken seriously until now. To prove its potential and revolutionary role in technology, we turned to the major players in the market: Google and Apple.
A quick reminder: What is AR again?
Augmented reality adds virtual interactive elements, such as 3D visuals, to the real environment around you. To be able to see it, you require a hardware layer — most often it would be your smartphone’s camera. So, as the term suggests, it is a view of the real world that has been augmented digitally. According to Benjamin Schrom from Google’s Daydream team, AR is a “simple and powerful tool for bridging the digital and physical world.” We couldn’t agree more.
And why does AR matter?
Both Apple and Google released their own frameworks for AR around 2–3 years ago. But lately, they started sharing serious statements about the technology, presenting it as a new revolution in our everyday digital life.
“Augmented reality and machine learning will be key to delivering the right information to the right person at the right time,” says Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. And there are reasons to believe his words. Let’s take a look at Google’s and Apple’s AR frameworks — ARCore and ARKit respectively.
A closer look at Apple’s ARKit
ARKit is a development platform for quick and easy embedding of AR experiences into developers’ apps and games. The platform uses an iOS device’s camera, processors, and motion sensors to create different experiences.
“ARKit allows for great flexibility: Any experience for any industry is fair game, and retail is no exception,” says Kosta Popov, CEO of Cappasity. “At NRF 2020, we presented the demo of the immersive product page that comes with 3D and AR modes made possible by the Cappasity platform. The response was more than enthusiastic. We can offer our clients a way to create a fully immersive shopping experience since the Cappasity platform has all the right tools.”
Apple first introduced ARKit in 2017 as a part of iOS 11 and received an impressive response, including being named a potential game-changer for the entire tech world.
In 2018, ARKit 2 included the key ’multiplayer’ feature, which allows different devices to see the same AR scene.
But it was not until 2019 that Apple’s AR became ready to deliver the type of experience that gets CEO Tim Cook so excited he wants to “yell out and scream”. What was so special about ARKit 3? Features like motion capture, which allows developers to integrate people’s movement into their apps. Last year Apple also announced Reality Composer, a new app for developers that lets them prototype and produce AR experiences with zero 3D skills.
“We have the world’s largest augmented-reality-enabled platform, and thousands of ARKit-enabled applications in the App Store,” Cook said during Apple’s Q3 2019 earnings call. He also mentioned AR as an area ripe for growth at a presentation to Wall Street investors.
Last but not least, in 2019 Apple finally appointed its first executive dedicated to overseeing the company’s AR initiatives. Frank Casanova became the head of Apple’s AR marketing.
Comparing that to Google’s ARCore
ARCore is Android’s AR framework. The initial version was released in 2018 and the stable one in 2019. It serves the same purpose as ARKit for Apple: enabling developers to tap into advanced AR tools.
Google is keeping up with its competitor Apple, releasing more and more new features.
Part of last year’s upgrade was the all-new Depth API, a depth detection feature that lets developers perform what’s known as an occlusion. An occlusion is when an AR object can be blocked from view by other real-world objects in a scene. Apple has implemented People Occlusion technology in its ARKit as well.
Much like Apple’s ARKit, ARCore uses three key technologies to integrate virtual content within the real world:
- Motion tracking — helps the phone determine and track its position.
- Environmental understanding — allows the phone to detect the size and location of flat horizontal surfaces.
- Light estimation — lets the phone estimate the environment’s lighting.
Augmented Reality: Games Aside
When people hear about AR, many might first think of Pokémon GO — which was downloaded 750 million times in its first year. But AR is going to go way beyond that. Let’s start with what is already popular, like the Ikea Place app. Available on both iOS and Android, the app enables you to preview Ikea products in your own home before making a purchase. Amazon AR View provides similar features, but with Amazon products.
Another successful retailer is Sephora with its Virtual Artist. Using the Sephora Virtual Artist app, potential customers can digitally try on selected makeup. And then there is the Home Depot’s The Project Color app, which invites you to virtually try paint colors on your walls.
The sky’s the limit
There’s hardly any area of life where AR couldn’t be useful. We’re talking about reimagined map directions; real-time dialogue translations and movie subtitles; housing prototypes for potential buyers to walk through; doctors’ training and surgery assistance; sophisticated caption options for deaf users; truly immersive school lessons; virtual changing rooms; cooking instructions; interactive billboards. And the list goes on. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics officials are making use of this high tech era, hoping to make every sign in Tokyo translatable to visitors through AR.
Whether it’s in shopping or education, it is often more compelling to see objects in their actual size and as if they were actually near you. “AR presents information in the most relevant context — the real world itself,” says Benjamin Schrom. And that might give AR an essential role in our immediate future.
“AR has multiple use cases, but retailers rarely pick it as a stand-alone solution. Many of the Cappasity platform clients, for example, begin with the integration of 3D product visualization into their websites and later try AR as a way to boost the interactivity of the shopping experience,” says Kosta Popov, CEO of Cappasity. “AR removes the uncertainty factor for customers that are considering making a purchase. It reduces returns, and that’s what retailers want.”
Apple Glasses: A new era is around the corner
Rumors about Apple’s smart glasses have been circulating for years. There’s enough evidence to suggest that a massive release will finally happen in 2023. According to some sources, Apple executives have internally shared a roadmap which includes plans for two AR devices: a headset most likely to appear in 2022 and glasses coming a year later in 2023. Apparently the company intends to reach out to software developers in 2021.
So far the evidence seems to propose that the AR glasses will be dependent on the iPhone. They will work as a display to deliver maps, messages, images and games directly to the user’s field of vision. Insiders say the current prototypes “look like high-priced sunglasses with thick frames that house the battery and chips.”
Tim Cook has high hopes for AR and the value it could bring to consumers. He’s been a vocal supporter of the technology for years, saying in 2018 at the company’s first-quarter earnings call that he sees AR as “profound” and that it has the potential to “amplify human performance.” We absolutely cannot wait to witness this in person.