Apple’s Augmented Reality May Be a Goldmine for App Developers

Nearly 200 million iPhones and iPads will be ready next week to get an AR upgrade when Apple launches its iOS 11.

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When Apple releases its iOS 11 next week, up to 200 million iPhones and iPads will be ready for the next gold rush for its app developers: augmented reality.

The update will throw open its ecosystem to the applications developed using its free ARKit that the Cupertino, California-based tech company previewed in June.

It’s a set of tools to build programmes that use the phone’s camera to track its position in the real world, and then superimpose visuals or information. Remember Pokemon GO? That was a crude use of the technology.

A Game Changer

Andrew Hart, an iOS product developer who recently built an ARKit demo for navigation using augmented reality, said in a text message to BQ:

ARKit is a game changer – there are a lot of applications. The kit will be used heavily for a few things at first, like navigation, social media, and 3D games.

It’s a lucrative proposition for developers, who get 70 percent of the App Store earnings. They made $70 billion from apps for Apple’s operating system over the last decade, according to the company’s earnings statement in June. Augmented reality offers a much bigger opportunity as researcher Global Market Insights estimates the market for AR products to surge 80 percent to $165 billion by 2024.

Given that the ARKit is compatible with devices as old as the iPhone 6S, Apple’s ecosystem for iOS 11 and ARKit is estimated to be over 200 million devices, according to Loup Ventures, an investor that backs artificial intelligence and augmented reality start-ups.

Google Also on Board

If just 5 percent of the paid apps (on App Store) leverage the ARKit, the augmented reality apps on iOS would generate $1.7 billion in gross revenue per year.
Andrew Murphy, managing partner, Loup Ventures

BloombergQuint’s emailed queries to Apple remain unanswered.

To be sure, Apple isn’t alone. Google too showcased ARCore for developers in August to build augmented reality apps for its Android platform.

Yet, by the time the preview was announced, developers across the world had started building demos of real-world uses with the ARKit. Moreover, ARCore is limited to Google’s Pixel and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 high-end devices.

Google’s first attempt to take augmented reality mainstream was in 2013 with the Glass, a pair of spectacles with a small display. That wasn’t a success.

A year later, the Mountain View, California-based firm unveiled Project Tango, its AR computing platform for mobiles, again confined to two devices. Microsoft rolled out the HoloLens, a head mounted display to interact with holograms, in 2016.

Apple to Target Consumers

With the technology is in an early phase, these expensive devices were largely targeted at businesses, not consumers. Apple aims to change that. “ARKit itself does not really do something that hasn't been done before,” said Bjarne Lundgren, lead mobile developer at Denmark's largest broadcaster TV2.

Apple’s “huge” market size and the free ARKit will give independent developers a “level-playing field” with the big companies as it does not require special hardware like headgears aside from an iPhone or an iPad, he said.

Apple is using it for “democratising access” to a future platform, Niraj Pant, a computer science student and developer at the University of Illinois, said in emailed replies. “This is truly building for the masses.”

Real-World Applications

Lack of real-world uses has delayed adoption of augmented reality. Big unfashionable headgears only added to the problem.

The whole point of AR is that you can get out and about and wear them as part of your daily life. There’s really not much point to AR products that only work indoors.
Matt Miesnieks, Partner, Super Ventures to BQ

With the ARKit, AR applications are about to increase, said Lundgren. “There are a bunch of demos, most of which are cool, but not much besides.” He believes it’s just the beginning and more serious uses of AR may span areas like architecture, construction, education and visualisation of complex data.

Furniture retailer IKEA has already built an app using the ARKit, which lets you place furniture in a room and preview it before buying.

Augmented reality operates in a spectrum between crude uses like the Pokemon Go or Snapchat lenses, and life-like experiences demonstrated by US startup Magic Leap. “I believe ARKit holds a spot in the middle,” Pant said.

Enter Apple Glasses?

It’s widely speculated that Apple’s next big product would be augmented reality glasses.

Earlier this year, the tech giant hired NASA's Jeff Norris, who was working on new ways to control spacecrafts and robots with augmented reality, according to a Bloomberg report. He was roped in for a team working on a pair of AR glasses and related features for future iPhone models, the report said.

Augmented reality is the next big bet for Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. And he summed this up in a recent earnings conference call: It’s “one of those huge things that we’ll look back at and marvel on the start of it”.

(This story was first published in BloombergQuint and has been republished with permission)

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