Will AR transport tech to another dimension?

Reality bytes

October 9th 2017 

When it comes to spotting trends, it’s fair to say Apple are usually ahead of the curve.

So it’s no wonder the inclusion of augmented reality (AR) app tool, ARKit, in iOS 11 has attracted so much attention. Its capabilities created ripples of excitement at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference last month, when the audience watched a realistic coffee cup appear on a table top, which then played host to a battle fought by realistic AR soldiers.

In the article Apple is launching an iOS ‘ARKit’ for augmented reality apps, The Verge quotes the organisation’s Craig Federighi, who believes that because the tool will be available across iOS, it’s effectively “the largest AR platform in the world.” Apple CEO, Tim Cook, admits he’s curious to see what ARKit will produce, telling Bloomberg, “Even we can’t predict what’s going to come out…I just want to yell out and scream.”

Clearly Apple’s low-key presence in the AR space is over. But has it backed a winner – or could ARKit be a damp squib?

Developers have certainly been quick to put the kit through its paces. In New ARKit iPhone app will help you learn to be a better dancer, Mashable tells of two enterprising salsa dancers using ARKit to create interactive dance lessons. Meanwhile Computerworld predicts that Apple’s ARKit will make 3D printing mainstream. Writer Jonny Evans claims the application’s capabilities, combined with next generation 3D printers, will kick-start the evolution of 3D AR design tools.

“It will soon be easy and accessible for people to get into 3D printing of things they design in Apple’s 3D environments,” Evans writes. “We’ll see it becoming a key tool for fast product prototyping, and (I think) it’s incredibly likely we’ll also see the evolution of a new form of 3D art.”

The Verge takes a more sceptical approach in an article titled ARKit is going to be a lot of fun while we wait for it to become useful. Reflecting on the early days of the App Store, journalist Sean O’Kane reminds readers that the most popular downloads back then were of the gimmicky ilk, such as iFart Mobile and iBeer.

O’Kane writes, “The most popular ARKit apps will likely be the ones that cause you to chuckle, like apps that let you put stuff on your dog, mess with your friends’ faces, or plant floating cats around your office…Hopefully by the time the novelty of these early ARKit apps wears off, developers will have a better feel for what that platform is capable of.”

Yet if a practical application for AR really is so far off, why has the retail sector responded so enthusiastically? Retail Week reports that Ikea teams up with Apple to launch augmented reality shopping app, while in an article titled Why Augmented Reality Will Be the Next Revolution in Retail, Strategy Business mentions Tesco, L’Oreal and Topshop among organisations to have experimented with AR.

A revolution? Really? Yes, say Strategy Business journalists Kamil Klamann and Sekoul Krastev:

“As AR becomes more powerful, we are likely to see a higher degree of personalisation of in-store product recommendations. Perhaps pointing your smartphone toward a shelf in a clothing store will not only provide information about the origins of the wool in the cashmere sweater, but also reveal special deals that are tailored to your profile — such as a discount in advance of the ski season. Ultimately, we are likely to see integration between AR, big data, and machine learning.”

Since it was founded in 2011, this ‘point and shoot’ idea is exactly what British augmented reality startup Blippar has been working on. Having raised just shy of £78m, the Financial Times declared it one of the best-funded UK startups and last year it was ranked ninth in CNBC’s 2016 Disruptor 50 companies.

However, it hasn’t all been plain-sailing. Earlier this month, The Drum revealed Blippar’s San Francisco office has been closed to cut costs. Blippar shutters San Francisco office to reel in expenses also mentions the fact the organisation has yet to turn a profit.

While Apple entering the fray bodes well for the future of AR, Blippar’s current woes suggest some caution is necessary. It’s a case of waiting to see what happens – and trying not to view the competitive tech world through rose-tinted spectacles.

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