Time To Get To Know Apple's ARKit

If you’ve been following news and rumors surrounding the upcoming release of the iPhone 8, you’ve likely come across some general babble about augmented reality. Indeed, Apple CEO Tim Cook has been making it known for a while now that he’s more interested in AR than VR. Accordingly, Apple has been working on ways to change the mobile experience for its untold millions of users. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t really need glasses or goggles to do it – at least not in the early going. Instead, they’re going to be relying on ARKit, which is basically a development program for apps that use phones’ cameras and screens to bring about AR experiences. Below we’ll get into more about what it is, what it could do, and which apps are already on the way.

What Is ARKit?

We covered the basic idea already. But more specifically, ARKit is a technological tool that will make AR experiences viewed through a phone camera look more realistic. As one article put it, it will allow for fast and stable motion tracking, which will bring about a sense of realism. For instance, when we play Pokémon GO, it looks as if Pokémon are hovering over physical space. It’s a cool effect, but very clearly fake. With ARKit, the improved motion tracking will supposedly make it look more like virtual characters and objects have actually appeared in real physical space.

Furthermore, ARKit is going to be available for all iOS devices once it’s released, which may actually be the most important thing about its release from a business perspective. Google already has an AR platform called Tango, but it’s limited in its availability; Samsung and Google both have VR capabilities, but only with headsets accompanying specific mobile phones. With the ARKit play, Apple is bringing its next big technology to existing users without the need for extra purchases.


What Could ARKit Bring About?

This could be its own article, or indeed its own series of articles. But naturally, there are some potential experiences that are being discussed more than others. One that frequently comes up is the possibility of Minecraft and similar games existing in AR. We could potentially be able to design Minecraft worlds on coffee tables or bedroom floors; we may also be able to blow them up in size and build virtual constructions in the yards of our homes, all by looking through our phones. Games like this could be among the most exciting developments given Minecraft’s popularity across multiple platforms already.

Card gaming is also a potential hot spot in ARKit development. Poker and other casino games have already proven to be some of the most adaptable games in any genre, and gaming sites online have already designed live dealer gameplay that simulates a real casino environment for players. The next natural step may well be AR, which can put virtual cards on a real table or even bring a virtual dealer or opponents into your space. As with Minecraft, this would be a significant development simply because of the popularity of this type of gaming.

Getting away from gaming, another very important development we could see is the design of apps related to education, or at least scientific exploration. One of the most amazing ARKit demos we’ve seen is a simulation of the moon landing in somebody’s kitchen. A virtual moon is simply suspended in midair (about the size of a large beach ball), and a tiny, seemingly to-scale ship materializes in thin air and lands on it. It’s an incredible bit of design, and opens your mind to all kinds of interesting scientific and educational apps that could be designed for use in classrooms or simply by individuals.

What Are The First Apps?

The above concepts and demos are all things that are likely going to be on the way in due time. For much of the summer it’s actually been difficult to distinguish between one-off demos (like the moon landing) and potential early ARKit apps (like Minecraft). But Tech Crunch recently released a preview of the first wave of apps that will apparently be coming to iPhones, so we may now have an idea of what we’ll be trying first in AR.

For the most part, the slate of forthcoming apps is relatively simple, as is to be expected. It will probably take some time for developers to feel out ARKit, see what works, what’s popular, etc. But while a few of the apps basically amount to AR versions of emojis and SnapChat filters, there were a few interesting reveals. For instance, the popular “Very Hungry Caterpillar” storybook has been adapted into an adorable AR experience that young children will be able to enjoy with their parents. Additionally, the game “Arise,” while not at all like Minecraft in its design, looks to be an early example of how a world building or exploration game might look in ARKit. It’s actually almost more like the mobile hit Monument Valley in its geometric design, and frankly watching a little knight move about a 3D fortress of sorts in this game is mesmerizing.

This is, all in all, an exciting and somewhat mysterious tech development that’s nearly upon us. We’ll soon be familiar with all manner of different AR experiences to be enjoyed through smartphones. But expect to see some of these early ideas and apps among them.