Augmented Reality has what Virtual Reality didn’t. The power to be present across a million devices without forcing people to buy a separate device. AR can latch on to existing smartphone technologies and spread like wildfire. Apple realised it first. During WWDC earlier this year, Apple opened the floodgates to AR on iOS 11.
It announced ARKit
which when leveraged by developers can put the technology in the palms of millions of iPhone users. Google realised the potential too, and better late than never, the search giant announced ARCore yesterday which will put AR capabilities in Android devices by the millions.
Over just a year or so, the focus has shifted from VR to AR. Apple never indulged in VR, but Google did by releasing the Daydream View headset and so far there are only a handful of phones that support the Google Daydream platform. Augmented reality, on the other hand, will not face such adoption barriers as the technology can be offered through nothing more than the smartphone’s camera app, free of cost. That also solves the vicious cycle VR seems to be in where it doesn’t make sense for a consumer to invest in a VR headset when there is so little content available and for developers to make content when there’s hardly anyone using VR.
This isn’t Google’s first attempt at AR though. Earlier, Google had introduced Project Tango, a hardware-enabled AR experimentation project that put custom sensors and cameras on phones to offer an AR experience. But it was still hardware oriented, for which users had to invest money out of their pocket to enjoy the features and
that spelt doom for the project
Google took the learnings from Project Tango and implemented features like motion tracking, environmental awareness and light estimation. With motion tracking, objects can be accurately placed in a real world environment using the phone’s camera while environmental understanding will detect surfaces where objects can be placed. Finally, with light estimation, ARCore offers developers the chance to make virtual objects appear realistic by leveraging the ambient light in the environment.
Using these tools, developers can create apps and services centering on AR for smartphones which has the potential to change the way we have been using our phones in our daily lives. Imagine holding up the phone and pointing around a new city only to find the places of interest pop up in the map with directions and reviews.
In a blogpost
, Google spoke about building AR-enhanced web browsers for both iOS and Android devices through a technology called Visual Positioning Service (VPS) that allows AR to be scaled beyond just placing objects on a tabletop.
I can imagine a whole new way of using Google Maps where the directions will be superimposed on top of the real world and there won’t be a separate map per se anymore. The large hoardings that are a distraction while driving can be replaced to be seen only through an AR app.
ARCore currently runs on Google Pixel phones and the Samsung Galaxy S8, running Android 7.0 Nougat and above. It is only a preview and Google is already targeting 100 million devices by the end of the preview. For this, Google is working in tandem with Samsung, Huawei, LG, Asus and others to bring the feature over to more phones and more users.
However, making use of the head start it had over Google, Apple exhibited some of the apps developers have made using its ARKit, which is similarly an SDK for AR-enhanced apps and services for iOS devices.
At its Cupertino headquarters yesterday, Apple gathered a host of well-known names like Ikea, Giphy, AMC TV and more to show off their AR apps. Game developers too showed off their offerings. Climax Studios exhibited Arise, a puzzle-based AR game in real space that can be solved by physically turning an iPhone or iPad to steer the character through the puzzle. Unlike Google, for whom Android fragmentation is still a major issue, Apple can promise a million plus user base in just a day. And that has been drawing developers more towards the Cupertino giant’s platform.
Other rivals like Microsoft’s Hololens is still far behind with minimal development of content so far. Microsoft is depending heavily on third party manufacturers for the hardware which is likely to create more fragmentation in the industry. Facebook and Snapchat are leading the way for AR as far as the social network is concerned with both rivals leveraging the smartphone camera to allow customised faces and unique ways of interacting with friends on social media.
It’s safe to say, that as of today, the AR was has officially begun