Will Apple’s ARKit help augmented reality reach mainstream audiences?

AR. A technology that’s been around for decades.

But last summer’s Pokemon Go craze provided a new stage.

It placed AR in the hands of people who had never heard the term. Overnight fame. However I can’t help feeling the limelight hasn’t quite been capitalised on.

This could change in the coming weeks.

I’m not a developer. Which is why I sought advice from three minds much more expert than myself to ask what impact they thought, ARKit could have on the adoption of the technology.

What is ARKit?

Well back in June, at Apple’s annual week long geekout, also known as WWDC (worldwide developers’ conference), it confirmed a new “fast and stable motion tracking” SDK for iOS11. Essentially the building blocks for apps that allow objects to look real when using the technology on your phone or tablet.

Since then developers have had a chance to play with this toolkit and the results seem stunning.

Are you not entertained?

Apple already enlisted A-list creative talent to illustrate its potential. Cue Sir Peter Jackson…

So from an entertainment point of view you can see the benefit.

Previously AR has needed triggers to launch the experience. For example Fox Sports Bathurst 1000 race last year allowed viewers to beam the race direct to their coffee table thanks to studio Mod, a Sydney based agency headed by Michela Ledwidge.

However both ARKit, and Google’s recently announced competitor ARCore, strip out that need. Just point and go. No longer do you need a QR code-like mapping point to get the technology started.

Co-founder of Sydney’s women in AR/VR group, Ledwidge believes “AR is a great opportunity, if you have the assets”.

Both Apple and Google now think the time is right for pooling resources into the tech. Google has come out with its jumpstart for developers, ahead of its second handset launch Pixel 2 on October 6.

Style over function

However one of the accusations has been that AR, looks impressive, but lacks real world use. A gimmick.

Speaking with Chris Panzetta, head of creative tech agency S1T2, he’s measured in his excitement about the upcoming updates as he believes we have a way to go before it’s taken beyond just a novelty.

“What ARKit and ARCore are going to do is democratise the technology”. He says that we’ll need to forget about the technology first, to then realise its full potential and what it could be used for. He hopes the way we reference it will change, much in the same way the term digital is now slowly becoming obsolete (you no longer need a digital strategy, but a strategy for a digital world – as argued by Tom Goodwin years ago).

Looking to take the tech beyond ‘fad’ status, the new Neon AR app, made with ARKit, has put together possibly my favourite problem-solving use case. It overlays a neon sign above your friends in a crowd.

Imagine the benefit at festivals. Hopefully coming to Australia in time for Falls fest.

There’s a lot still holding back the tech. Battery life, processing power, not to mention the social issues around mixed reality and someone wearing a headset that could potentially be filming you (not something that has held Air New Zealand back mind you).

The backlash against ‘Glassholes’ still lingers in the memory. Although it’s interesting to see that technology get a recent rebirth in the business enterprise sector.

AR at work

And perhaps that’s where the potential for AR exists too. Construction and floor plans brought to life for architects. Agricultural planning with real-time data on a headset. This mixed reality future already exists and is helping the thriving agritech scene.

A showroom with no cars? Well GM is already taking the showroom to you.

Rob Lang, CEO of AR outfit Auggd has seen these differing sectors reflected in his clientbase. Just last week the company released this fantastic experience for Hyundai, giving car buyers extra info, like difficult to explain animated safety features, customisable colours and versions of its vehicles.

This is just the beginning

All of the people I spoke to were quick to say that it’s great to have their technology potentially in the hands of more consumers. And more importantly developers.

But you still need a good idea at the centre. S1T2’s Panzetta claims “if it doesn’t require a super mega brand for it” to work, then it might be worth pursuing.

“We’re only at the start of a technology here, that’s been around for 20 to 30 years” according to Rob Lang from Auggd. It’s going to be up to the developers and those in the industry to prove its value.

So while AR may not be catapulted to top of our tech habits with this update, analyst firm Telyste thinks it will be enough for Apple to regain its crown as number one phone maker in Australia for the first time since 2014.