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First to Market, or Best in Class?

Every second article right now is about Apple’s ARKit. Developers are creating demos to measure rooms, walk around a map, and even play Minecraft. The amount of ink it’s receiving far surpasses the attention given to earlier efforts like Google’s Tango and Microsoft’s HoloLens, despite the fact that the technology is very similar.

In fact, if you listen to experts, Apple’s offering is behind in terms of what it can actually offer. Surprised? We were.

From the headlines, it sounded like the arrival of the holy Grail. ARKit would change everything. ARKit would make the iPhone 8 an instant best-seller. ARKit would transform technology as we know it. Yet actual side-to-side tests show that Apple’s AR offering renders more slowly, and covers less ground, than Tango. Its resolution is lower than the HoloLens, and the lack of a head mounted option mean it’s less versatile, too. Still, it seems like those holy Grail pronouncements may be true: early reports show a huge degree of excitement. So if it isn’t the best in class tool, what does it have that leaves it poised to knock its competitors out of the way?

It’s really, really easy to get.

When iOS 11 makes its commercial release in the fall, every single person with a next generation iOS device will have access to the apps created with ARKit. Tablets, phones, and computers will all be compatible. And it’s not just the last few generations that will be upgradable; everything with an A9 or A10 processor will be able to handle the new operating system. Apple may not be the best in class, but it will be the first to break the consumer market.

Google has put a lot of effort into marketing Project Tango, but to date it’s only available on two devices: the Lenovo Phab 2 and the Asus Zenfone. Everyone in the industry was surprised when the flagship Google Pixel was released missing the much-lauded Tango, and since rumours of a “storm” of releases late last year, there hasn’t been a single whisper of further devices coming. Developers aren’t making tons of demos of this cool new tech, because what’s the point? So few consumers would be able to use it.

The HoloLens has been more successful, but given its $3000 price tag, it’s naturally hitting a different market. We’ve seen some pretty amazing demos of the HoloLens, including a Lemmings game that we were obsessed with, and a Mario demo that’s getting a lot of attention. But Microsoft is focusing on what they do well, namely enterprise markets, with the HoloLens going big into training and industry (it is all over NASA). They’re currently the best in class, but sales are only “in the thousands”, and they’re happy with that.

Apple is known for waiting while others muck around, and then coming out the gate swinging with a vastly superior product. They’re known for holding off launching until they have something slick, well-tested, shiny and perfect. Their strategy for AR seems to be counter to that.

Time will tell whether being first to market will prove the better strategy, or whether Apple will struggle to compete against stronger offerings once Google really gets in the game. But for now, we can’t wait to play with the apps people are making using the ARKit, and everyone else seems to feel the same.

Written by Wren Handman for www.hammerandtusk.com.

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