How Apple ARKit is helping developers build better Augmented Reality Apps
Augmented reality (AR) is the way software uses your cell phone’s camera to create the illusion that everything from simple everyday objects to fantastical creatures are literally steps away from you and most capable of interacting with the space or objects around you (remember the Pokemon Go mania from a couple of years ago?). It is the exact same technology that allows Snapchat to lay funky masks over your shelfies, and GIFs to appear in the real world when viewed through the camera of your phone. But, developers have been struggling to make AR appealing to a wider range of audiences – at least, as of now.
All that is expected to change after the launch of the latest version of Apple’s iOS operating system last fall and the introduction of ARKit – a streamlined set of tools that came into being to help developers create AR experiences easier than ever before. We could say that ARKit has come to bridge the gap between your virtual space and your real world by acting as a development platform. Ever since, we have seen 100s of demos been surfaced. Take, IKEA, for example. The furniture megastore plans to release IKEA Place, a new AR app that will allow you to not only just place static virtual furniture into a home but also see how these pieces look from any angle. For developers that would have never tried AR otherwise, ARKit is indeed alluring.
The uses and opportunities that open up with AR are limitless as you can turn practically any idea into an augmented reality app. From creating an AR-powered app that makes it possible to measure every little thing in a room just by waving your camera over it to pointing your iPhone’s camera at a food item and being provided with food recipes that include that food.
The point is, though, to create genuinely useful augmented reality apps, which is what seems developers can now achieve with ARKit.
Why do developers swear by ARKit?
Developers are ecstatic using ARKit for the following reasons:
- They no longer need to develop a specialty – Creating AR features in their apps is now made easy with the use of ARKit’s framework. They don’t even need to have prior experience working with augmented reality.
- ARKit can teach them the basics – Swift Playground is a challenge Apple has created using ARKit. The app can be downloaded from the App Store (available for iPad users) and allows developers to see how AR apps are created and used.
- They no longer need to struggle with QR Codes – In the past, in order to be able to scan QR codes, iOS users had to install a 3rd party app. With iOS 11, all QR codes are scanned automatically by the pre-installed camera app. If you want to link AR content to real-world surfaces and print materials, AR codes are extremely valuable.
- They can build apps with better understanding of motion – Visual Inertia Odometry (VIO) – technology that is used to track the real world around an iPhone or iPad – combines camera sensor data with the user’s CoreMotion data, which allows devices to better understand how an object is moving within a room, with no need to be extremely accurate to work or require any additional calibration. With ARKit, objects look more like they are being placed in real space rather than appear that you are just hovering over them.
- No need to worry about amount of perfect light – Before ARKit, developers had to figure out how to make sure the right amount of light was present in a scene. Now, the camera sensor does all the hard work. Based on the estimate of ARKit, virtual objects get the perfect amount of light. This allows them to create realistic AR content for users. Let us note that the better an AR algorithm performs the more room opens up for higher visual fidelity.
- They can create higher quality games – ARKit has joined hands with Scenekit (high-level 3D graphics framework) and 3rd party tools like one of the best game engines with AAA graphics, namely Unreal Engine. The result? Impressive levels of visual fidelity and detail.
- They can create detailed virtual content – ARKit runs on two of the most powerful processors known for their supreme performance – the Apple A10 and A9 processors. The high-performance hardware that gets a good grasp of the scene almost instantly enables developers to create extremely detailed virtual content.
The motion sensor, processors, and cameras that come with iOS devices are designed to access augmented reality solutions. With the ARKit being able to track the layout or orientation of different objects, using cameras to understand the lighting and geometry of scenes captured by a camera, developers have the extraordinary opportunity to place graphics that remain fixed on specific surfaces like ceilings, chairs, and tables, as the user moves the camera around, and create all sorts of new experiences.
All that aside, Apple is not the only company that provides tools to help developers build AR apps. There are alternatives like Kudan that have been around for many years. However, developers are enthusiastic about Apple’s solution mainly because ARKit’s tools sit on the iPhone’s core operating system, which makes it easier for them to create convincing experiences and apps that run more smoothly due to the absence of an added layer of image processing. On top of that, it is the capability of ARKit to keep virtual objects firmly in place rather than make them appear as if they float askew that also excites developers.
Whether AR is the future or not is a real challenge that will be defined by market share and, of course, developers themselves. Google has recently answered to Apple’s ARKit with its own offspring, the ARCore, which, according to leading mobile app and technology news provider Appyspot, seems to combat Apple’s augmented reality platform as equals.
Harry Lee, CEO of leading mobile app development agency Citrusbits quotes:
“In the next decade, we believe SMBs and large businesses will also go all-in on mobile strategies, as they learn from the successes of their peers and face increasing demand for mobile experiences from their customers and partners.”
Let’s face it. Virtual and augmented reality are the next day and although it is impossible to predict which company will dominate this technology, we can definitely say that it is a great time for developers (seasoned and newbies alike) to sharpen their skills and create the apps of tomorrow.