One of the announcements to receive the least fanfare from Apple’s WWDC was the release of ARKit. An SDK for iOS developers to add augmented reality to their apps. While AR SDKs have long existed they’ve been either expensive, poorly supported or poor performing and building your own AR functionality takes a lot of time.
ARKit changes this and in the process, it could make the dream Google Glass promised a reality.
ARKit makes AR as accessible as any other API to developers. When this happens the number of experiments and novel uses of a technology always increases. Developers will be able to easily build tiny bits of AR functionality into their apps without it being a significant undertaking.
Every clothing company will be able to cheaply add real-time virtual tryouts to their mobile apps. Every furniture store could let you see what their couches would like in your apartment.
But it will also lead to novel uses of AR being explored and finding significant usage.
Startups and developers have continued to build apps for iOS first but for there to truly be an AR boom it will need to be as accessible on Android as well.
For the past few years, Google has been working on Tango, it’s very own augmented reality platform. Tango uses special sensors and software to understand the world around it and add virtual objects into the world.
While it definitely has better tech than ARKit the need for special hardware means very few devices support it (only 2 commercially available so far). This lack of supported devices gives Apple an advantage but that looks to be changing in the near future.
Initially, Tango devices were huge but the latest device, the Asus Zenfone AR, is comparable in size to any of today’s popular Android phones. With the success of the Pixel, it’s likely upcoming Pixel devices could have Tango baked in as well. With the increase in AR apps being developed for iOS with Tango supported devices they’ll have a home on Android as well. And this will push other manufacturers to adopt Tango to support all those AR apps.
But phone based AR already exists you say? It does, but there are so few successful instances of it, Pokemon Go, a game that has a single optional AR feature, is the poster child. Now we’ll see countless more apps using AR optionally or as their core experience. This splurge of new AR apps will lead to developers eventually finding the best use cases of AR.
Which leads me to AR glasses.
Google glass was ahead of its time, not in functionality but in form factor and potential use cases. It over promised and under delivered. Like smartwatches today it only offered what was already available on our smartphones in a slightly more convenient way. Combined with low adoption, there was little incentive for developers to explore the use cases of AR.
But ARKit and Tango will lead to many new AR based apps and services just waiting for the right AR glasses. Why? AR glasses will offer a 10x improvement on phone-based AR. Those same services will instantly be improved by just being ported to AR glasses. The closer to your eye AR gets, the more immersive, and every killer AR app will be even better in glasses.
This is why ARKit is so important. It will spur the development of tons of new apps and services using AR technology on smartphones. To compete, Google will continue scale it’s Tango technology down and introduce it in their smartphones. Android OEMs like Samsung will adopt it so their devices can support the same apps that get built on iOS using ARKit.
And then we’ll see the release of new AR glasses. Apple is already rumored to be working on it and Google has the history. With tons of AR apps already existing on mobile, developers will have an easy time simply porting those apps to glasses. And finally, armed with many already proven useful AR services, we will have the Google Glass of our dreams.
At least that’s my prediction.