Augmented Reality at WWDC 2018: An Introduction to iOS12 and ARKit 2

Apple is starting to get super serious about augmented reality. Since Apple rolled out the first version of ARKit nearly 12 months ago, the companies CEO Tim Cook has consistently emphasised the importance of AR in terms of Apple’s long-term strategy, suggesting that AR has the potential to ‘change the way we use technology forever’. When Apple launched ARKit in iOS11 in 2017 they created the world’s largest AR platform and successfully delivered AR functionality to hundreds of millions of existing smartphones and tablets. Google quickly followed suit with the launch of their own AR SDK: ARCore. With the recent introduction of iOS12 and ARKit 2, Apple is bringing more sophisticated AR features to businesses and developers seeking to gain a foothold in AR. ARKit2 now provides shared AR spaces, persistent experiences and 3D object detection. These changes represent further validation that Apple is tripling down on AR and ARKit 2 represents a further evolution of what is already (arguably) the best AR platform in the world. Today we’re exploring what these changes mean for your business.

Everything your business needs to know about ARKit2
When Apple launched the original version of ARKit in 2017 it made an immediate impact in terms of the ease in which developers and brands could develop compelling AR experiences for iOS users. Despite its initial success, there were a few obvious limitations associated with the original version of ARKit. For example, the original ARKit only provided support for the detection of horizontal surfaces, but with the roll-out of iOS 11.3, Apple successfully added the ability to track non-flat surfaces and vertical planes. In the space of less than 12 months ARKit has made immense strides and with the launch of ARKit 2, the capabilities of the platform offer a multitude of opportunities for brands and developers. Here are some of the things you can expect to find in ARKit 2:

Shared User Experiences in ARKit 2:
This is potentially a huge enhancement from Apple in ARKit 2 that enables multiple iOS users to view the same environment each from their own separate view and perspective. Apple has created a tie-in with Lego and unveiled a game, or ‘virtual playspace’, whereby up to four different players can interact with a shared user experience in real-time. Apple also announced the release of it’s own game that utilises a shared user experience.

Persistent User Experiences:
This is a feature that has been present in the Microsoft HoloLens for a long time and now Apple is bringing the same functionality to iOS compatible devices. The persistent user experience feature enables the development of applications whereby brands and developers can create ‘AR Spaces’. This means that 3D objects can be placed within the real-world environment and ARKit 2 will remember where everything is placed. This means that users can create scenes using ARKit 2 that can be remembered and users can pick up from where they left off.

3D Object Recognition & Detection:
The original ARKit provided the functionality to recognise and detect flat 2D objects such as walls or posters. With the introduction of ARKit 2, Apple is enabling developers to recognise full 3D objects. This a huge innovation in terms of the capabilities of ARKit and the experiences it can potentially deliver to hundreds of millions of new and existing AR users. This will have a seismic impact if your business involves retail or the development of 3D objects.

Realistic Rendering Capability:
This is a huge advancement in terms of overall user experience. Whilst the current version of ARKit is already very robust and provides a realistic rendering experience for users, there is still room for improvement. Whilst Apple did not go into great detail about what this would entail, or the specifics of what was involved in the update, it’s anticipated that realistic rendering will entail the deployment of more accurate object lighting.

Enhanced Face Tracking:
During the iOS 12 launch event Apple did not go into great detail in terms of what enhanced face tracking would entail, needless to say that the idea in itself is fairly self explanatory. Expect to see better accuracy, speed of performance and the ability to analyse greater levels of detail.

Unique USDZ File Formats
One of the main announcements at WWDC 2018 was the creation of a new augmented reality file format called USDZ. Developed in collaboration between Apple and Pixar, the USDZ file format will be supported by a multitude of third-party platforms such as Sketchfab, Adobe and Autodesk. During the ARKit 2 launch event, the Adobe CEO presented from the stage to announce that the Creative Cloud suite will start supporting the USDZ format.

Supported Devices With ARKit 2
Apple has suggested that USDZ file format and ARKit 2 support will be available later this year as part of a free software enhancement for all devices iPhone 6S and above. This will also include ubiquitous support for all iPad Pro models, iPad 5th generation and iPad 6th generation which represents almost all of the devices that were supported by the launch of the original ARKit.

Getting The Measure Of ARKit 2
When Apple launched the original version of ARKit last year, developers quickly deluged the App Store® with hundreds of measurement applications. These apps enable users to generate virtual measurements of room sizes, volumes and lengths. Anyone who has ever tried (unsuccessfully) to measure a surface that is difficult or perilous to access in terms of personal safety will appreciate the functionality of this technology. Whilst few people realised the world was waiting for traditional tape measures to be wholly disrupted, Apple appears to be taking this innovation seriously with the introduction of its own measurement app, aptly named ‘Measure’.

At first glance, Measure appears to be a slightly slicker, more robust version of the measurement apps that are currently available on the App Store®. The app enables users to perform linear measurements which provides some very useful benefits for users. But the really impressive element of Measure is its ability to calculate the dimensions of 3D objects and to quickly compute volume. The application also provides the ability to immediately detect rectangular objects. This means that the user simply has to point the smartphone camera at a poster, table or television screen to gain a completely accurate set of measurements.

Whilst the Measure app is relatively simple and not the type of application that’s likely to have users switching away from Android in their droves, it further underpins the idea that Apple is increasingly baking AR functionality into every area of its software and hardware ecosystem. Much like the core utility apps that are baked into every iPhone, such as the calculator and compass, the launch of the Measure app perhaps symbolises that AR is here to stay for the long-term.

What ARKit 2 Means For You
Here at Mozenix we’re obsessed with the capabilities of augmented reality technology and how they can be leveraged to enhance commercial performance. If you’re a business owner or Software Development Manager interested in understanding how to best leverage the capabilities of AR, there’s never been a better time to get started. The launch of ARKit 2 further validates that Apple see AR technology as being a significant part of its future.
Based on recent announcements, it’s becoming increasingly clear that AR technologies possess vast commercial and technical potential, not just for huge companies like Apple, but for businesses of all sizes from all over the globe. As technology starts to shift from what we carry in our hands, to what we wear, this will have significant consequences for business owners. In many cases, ARKit will be hugely compelling because it offers a soft entry point for brands seeking to understand the capabilities of AR technology.

ARKit 2 will immediately provides access to millions of existing iOS devices and a chance to develop software services and products that target the owners of each and every device. If you’re a business or brand seeking to develop an AR app that utilises any of the ARKit 2 features discussed in this blog, contact Mozenix today to kick-start the conversation.

If you’re interested in refining your thinking around Augmented Reality and learning how to develop an app for ARKit 2, it’s worth taking the time to fill in our quick AR survey, takes 2 minutes and should help crystalize your thought process in terms of how an AR app might enhance your current software offering.