Augmented reality as a concept isn’t new. Just like a lot of other concepts in technology, augmented reality (AR) has been through an evolutionary journey, growing and adapting itself like any other. The term was conceived in 1990 when researcher Tom Caudell at Boeing postulated it for use on the factory floor. A couple of months ago, at WWDC, Apple announced it was looking at AR in a huge way with ARKit.
If I had to ponder over the past few years, I observe three distinct variants – virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. And pioneering these three areas are – Facebook, through its acquisition of Oculus; Google, through its Glass project; and Microsoft, through its HoloLens project. It’s a pity though. Despite being impressive concepts by themselves, I don’t find them mainstream worthy just yet.
Over the past three years, I’ve experienced the Oculus Rift developer edition and the HoloLens at ease. I’ve only been able to see the Google Glass briefly. But I’ve had a few friends in the developer circles who’ve described their experience at length to me. Alas, there was just one common denominator in the sluggish adaption of these impressive attempts – high cost of associated hardware.
Fine crafted effort by Apple
At worldwide developer conference (or DubDubDeeCee) in June this year, Apple announced a slew of features in its next version of its mobile operating system. But towards the end of the event, Apple demoed its trump card in its battle for sealing its grip over the next wave of tech innovation. Meet ARKit. ALSO READ: Apple announces ARKit at WWDC 2017
There are two reasons why ARKit has immense potential. One, the need for an AR headset or wearable has been obviated. Two, given that iOS has a longer support cycle and lesser fragmentation than Android, it already seems to have an edge over ARCore. I’ve seen the past of AR. And I believe there’s scope to improve. With cool new apps developed for iOS 11 implementing ARKit, I’ve seen the beginning of the future of AR. And it’s pretty damn interesting.
Set up your home with IKEA Place
If you’ve ever moved into a new home with or without a family, you’d realize that putting all you need together, and decorating your home could be exciting. And daunting at the same time. Thanks to the new app from IKEA, all those hassles and anxious moments could be a thing of the past.
The Swedish company’s latest creation is IKEA PLACE, an augmented reality app that aims to “close the gap between imagination and reality to let you confidently experience, experiment and share how good design transforms your space”. With IKEA PLACE, you can virtually “place” furnishings from IKEA’s catalog in your living room or bedroom. And you can do all of this without bothering about logistics, dimensions, and comfort. At the touch of your finger.
From the product demo, it’s as easy as dragging and then dropping a sofa, lamp, rug or table around your room. These are crisp 3D renders of IKEA products with a high degree of detail. It’s true-to-scale, and is aware of its environment. So all you need to worry about is the color and texture that you want to select for your home, while the app does the rest.
I did speak to Michael Valdsgaard, Leader of Digital Transformation at IKEA, and my first question to him was how this was relevant to us in India. He did add that IKEA will launch its operations in India later this year. This coincides with the launch of iOS 11, and the larger rollout of ARKit-enabled apps that are all scheduled for the next few months.
Storify your GIFs with GIPHY World
A few years ago, the use of text without vowels was frowned upon as SMS lingo. It infuriated the older folk. Times have changed. We’ve mostly made peace with the passing phase. And we’ve readily adapted predictive text. It helps us push out the plethora of thoughts and emotions, as disjointed as they may be in the shorted possible time as we go on dabbling with out thumbs, without losing our chain of thought.
And just around the time we rediscovered the joy of typing out complete sentences, we discovered the world of GIFs. And then came along GIPHY. GIFs, memes and stickers are the new SMS lingo of the millennials. Director of Design at Giphy, Ralph Bishop recalls, “if an image is worth a thousand words, then by that logic, a GIF, would be worth a million?” Well I didn’t quite do the math as he suggested, because I’d have to admit, depending on the number of frames, or rather 2^number of frames in a GIF would admittedly take it to at least worth a million words.
During the demo, Bishop drew a few clouds in the air, added a few hearts, searched for a few GIFs and inserted characters right before me. The result is a video that takes you in the most interactive mode of communication I’d ever encountered. Once you are done creating your message, simply share it via the iOS share options. A link is sent to your contact, and they can view it as a video. This seemed like the future of communication, for generation next.
Interactive tales with The Very Hungry Caterpillar
One of the examples of an app that implements ARKit is by Touchpress. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is an interactive game that allows young kids to use the iPad, and explore a rich and exciting augmented reality environment. Based on the popular character created by Eric Carle, it starts out with a caterpillar that hatches out of an egg. It gets hungry and the kid playing the game can feed it apple and fruits. The more you feed it, the more it grows and wriggles. ALSO READ: Google removes 500 apps from the Play Store over spyware
Barry O’Neill, CEO of TouchPress, the company that has created an appified experience of the 50-year old story book says, “Kids love the idea of a virtual pet, and with ARKit we can make that pet a reality.” To me, that sounds like immense potential in the field of education.
This sounds interesting, because I could tap into the repository of recipes and literally enact what happens in a kitchen – by letting the app scan by kitchen counter and enjoy as I potentially watch a glazed chunk of ribs, roast, or even decorate a cake with icing.
It’s quite practical, because I’m quick to devour these in a restaurant, but I may not necessarily have the means, the time or the energy to try these out at home. But over a course of time, by engaging with a gamified recipe book, I might just have the confidence to put together a meal at home.
Connecting the dots in 3D with Arise
Simon Gardner, CEO at Climax Studios gave a demo of Arise, which is a brand new AR puzzle game created using ARKit. And it works on the basic principle of line of sight and perspective.
You move your device, to align your view of a mini world, to form bridges, that your game character can use to crossover to the next level. You navigate our hero, and help get him to the top of the sky island and retrieve an artefact.
Zombies could get real with The Walking Dead
After experiencing torrential rains in Mumbai, I might associate with survivalists. But zombies aren’t my thing just yet. Yet, the demo by Michael Achren did manage to sweep me off my feet. The Walking Dead is a popular franchise in the western world. In partnership with Next Games, the franchise has managed to bring the zombie apocalyse into the ‘real world’.
You can now be a part of the fight to survival with The Walking Dead. It’s a new location-based augmented reality game similar in a way to Pokémon GO. Only this involves a thrilling game play.
Yet another reason to look forward to the next iPhone and iOS 11
The time I’ve spent witnessing the new apps built using ARKit, using sensors on our iPhone and iPad, does make me look forward to AR. The space is moving beyond being just a gimmick. Zombies aside, AR is finally becoming useful. It holds potential in terms of training miners, astronauts or far fetched worlds. Teachers could help students understand their subjects better.
Special services could train their forces on dealing with hostile situations better. And in attempting to do this, all they need to do is build better apps. Unlike existing apps, implementing innovative new ways of AR experiences would no longer need additional hardware or wearables. Besides, existing iPhones and iPads are already AR-enabled devices. I’m awaiting the final rollout of iOS 11 to see the use cases of machine learning, Siri and AR.