What Apple ARKit means for businesses and brands

So far, Apple is the biggest company of it’s kind to unveil a native AR platform and this will have profound ramifications for businesses and brands. In addition, the company has been quick to highlight the fact that with such an enormous install base of iOS users that ARKit is already the biggest AR platform in the world. The launch of ARKit fits neatly with Tim Cook’s previous comments about the importance of AR in the context of the company’s future. The fact is that augmented reality fits extremely neatly with Apple’s vision of a world that is already dominated by smartphone usage. Augmented reality is an extremely versatile technology that can actually enhance the existing smartphone experience. This fits really well with Apple’s vision, in that the iPhone and iPad will always remain central to the daily lives of millions of people for performing a multitude of different tasks. Apple see the smartphone as being an essential component of our future lives and introducing AR functionality serves to strengthen the company’s already dominant position in the market. We recently explored how to develop a prototype for Microsoft Hololens, today we’re exploring what ARKit means for brands and businesses.

Augmented reality possesses vast commercial potential for Apple, but it also has the potential to be extremely lucrative for brands, businesses and the developers who choose to adopt ARKit as a core technology platform. It’s clear that Apple recognise this enormous commercial potential and that AR has the ability to drive significant revenue growth for their already significant software business and ecosystem. Reuters estimate that Pokemon Go could generate in excess of $3 billion sales revenue for Apple in the next two to three years. This is fundamentally important for Apple as they seek to drive more revenue via software services as device shipments continue to plateau in developed economies across the world.

Another compelling take away from the ARKit launch event is the fact that augmented reality features within the iPhone may represent a testing ground for Apple in terms of deploying a stand alone AR device. If Apple can adequately display the commercial potential of AR within it’s existing devices, the company is then one step closer to being able to justify the commercial feasibility of an Apple HMD (head mounted display). Apple’s competitors have been quick to launch Virtual Reality HUD’s and the launch of ARKit may symbolise Apple’s intentions to take a slightly different direction and invest heavily in AR. This tends to be the way that Apple has operated in the past, by waiting for competing hardware manufacturers to launch their devices first and to enter the market with a high-end device that has the potential to redefine an entire product category.

One thing is for sure, ARKit represents a commercial tipping point in terms of mass-market adoption of augmented reality technology. To date, the best mainstream commercial AR offerings have been examples such as Pokemon Go and the massively popular facial recognition filters deployed by Snapchat. What is now becoming abundantly clear, is the fact that Apple’s entrance into the AR market will stimulate much wider adoption of AR technology throughout its existing user base and also has the potential to help them sell more iOS devices. One of the key ramifications for brands and businesses is the fact that ARKit makes augmented reality technology accessible. Never before has it been so easy to develop an AR app for branding or process efficiency purposes that has the potential to instantaneously access hundreds of millions of users. Not only is it now possible to create new apps that are focused on using the capabilities of AR, but brands will also be able to insert AR experiences into their existing apps. So if you’re a brand that’s considered developing an AR app or prototype in the past, but been put off by the cost of the device or limitations in terms of user accessibility, ARKit has the potential to change everything. Now there’s a low barrier to entry when it comes to developing AR apps and this will open the floodgates in terms of interest from marketers and software development managers. What’s more, AR has the potential to be more engaging and immersive than existing mobile app formats, which could seriously stimulate the appetite of businesses and brands to invest in the technology.

So far, 2017 is looking like a massive tipping point in terms of mainstream AR adoption and usage. Already in 2017 we’ve witnessed developer offerings of AR from Snapchat, Apple and Google that possess the ability to leverage the functionality of smartphone cameras and powerful processing chips to overlay 3D digital objects on top of the real-world. What we’re now witnessing is a race in which the biggest technology companies in the world are competing for a shot at the same prize: dominance in an augmented reality market forecast to be worth more than $83 billion per year by 2021. There was a time not too long ago when the only thing we could convey via messaging apps was plain text. Then it was emojis. Then it was stickers. Nowadays images and video are an essential component of all messaging apps, especially for the minecraft generation. This is in large part due to the meteoric success and adoption of apps like Snapchat whereby the phone’s camera becomes absolutely critical to the core user experience.

For younger mobile users, the camera is actually more important when conveying information than the mobile keyboard itself. This represents a significant shift in terms of the way in which consumers interact with their mobile devices and the increasing importance of the smartphone camera in the context of the overall mobile experience. As such the ramifications for everyone involved in the mobile ecosystem are significant and profound. For device makers, social networks, marketers, software engineers and publishers alike, augmented reality has the potential to redefine the way we view the mobile experience with the smartphone camera rapidly becoming the star of the show.

Overview of ARKit features

Hardware and rendering optimisation
ARKit is fully equipped to run on the Apple A9 and A10 processors. The processors appear to deliver outstanding performance that enables Apple smartphones and tablets to easily understand the user’s immediate real world environment. If you’re business involves 3D modelling of any description, this is crucially important as the technology enables you to develop extremely detailed and immersive digital content on top of the real-world environment. This means that 3D objects can be viewed in an entirely new way, providing a compelling user experience. This is also crucially important for AR developers, as it provides the ability to use the optimisation features of ARKit in conjunction with existing technologies and 3D engines such as Unity, Unreal Engine, SceneKit and Metal.

Lighting Estimation & Scene Understanding
ARKit is packed with tonnes of incredible features if you’re thinking about developing an Augmented Reality prototype or app. Using ARKit to develop an AR app, brands can quickly use the capabilities of iPhone and iPad to analyse the horizontal planes in the room. The technology achieves this by utilising the camera view of the mobile device. What’s really cool about ARKit scene understanding technology is that it can use the camera view of your iPhone or iPad to detect all horizontal planes in your surrounding environment such as floors and tables, and dynamically place 3D objects in a highly contextual way. The ARKit lighting estimation tool is also really useful, as it utilises the camera sensor of any Apple device to calculate the amount of light that is available and then apply the optimal amount of light to 3D objects. For brands and businesses interested in the technology, this can enable 3D objects and renderings of real products to be visualised in a hyper realistic way.

ARKit Visual Inertial Odometry
ARKit utilises a technology referred to as Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) to track the surrounding environment with an incredible degree of accuracy. VIO works by merging together real-time camera data with CoreMotion data and these two inputs enable the device to accurately understand how it moves within a real-world environment without any additional need for calibration. For developers and brands this is a really exciting breakthrough as it’s never been possible to create augmented reality experiences for mobile devices with such ease and simplicity. Also referred to as ‘world tracking’, VIO is able to create the illusion that the virtual world is part of our surrounding real-world environment. This enables you to seamlessly develop AR apps that provide the correct shadowing of objects, change the perspective and scale of 3D objects and position digital props on real-world objects. If you’ve already developed a mobile app that utilises existing features such as the accelerometer, bluetooth LE, GPS and gesture recognition, this presents a plethora of opportunities when thinking about how to extend your app into AR using ARKit.

How does ARKit actually work?
Apple’s recent announcement regarding the launch of ARKit highlights the company’s aspirations to become a key player in the rapidly emerging space of augmented reality. Finally, it all starts to make sense from a commercial perspective, with the launch of iOS11, it’s become clear that Apple plans to enable billions of iPhones and iPads to be instantaneously equipped with AR functionality. This essentially puts AR capability directly into the pockets of every Apple user in the world. This is the reason why Apple has been so firmly focused on equipping all of it’s new iPhone’s with dual camera functionality. But how does the dual camera technology actually work?

Dual cameras are an essential component of AR technology, as they provide more sophisticated zoom capabilities and depth sensing. If you create a scenario with two entirely different viewpoints, and you have the capability to calculate the distance between each viewpoint, it becomes possible to calculate the distance of a given object point using triangulation. This means that for every pixel the camera is able to recognise, each iOS device can produce depth maps of what the camera is able to see. This is basically how the human brain functions, enabling us to visualise our surrounding environment in 3D. This is an effect commonly referred to as stereopsis (the perception of depth produced by the reception in the brain of visual stimuli from both eyes in combination; binocular vision). The immediate benefit of using this type of technology is that the ARKit software is able to immediately respond to which objects are in the foreground of a particular environment, and which objects are in the background. It’s this technology that enables the iPhone 7+ to create portrait images that position specific objects clearly in the foreground whilst blurring out the background. By implementing dual cameras across the iOS suite of projects, Apple clearly intend to go way beyond portrait images by using the hardware functionality to cross the divide into the world of augmented reality.

Conclusion
So it turns out 2017 is a huge year for AR and potentially a key turning point in terms of predicting Apple’s plans for the future. It’s clear to see that AR possesses enormous commercial potential, not just for giants like Apple, but for businesses and brands of all sizes from all over the world. As technology begins to shift from what we carry in our hands, to what we wear, this will have profound ramifications for business owners. In many cases, ARKit will be hugely significant because it offers a soft entry point for companies looking to experiment with the capabilities of AR technology. It immediately provides access to millions of existing devices and a chance to develop software services and products that target the owners of each and every device. If you’re a business or brand seeking to develop an ARKit augmented reality app, contact Mozenix today to start the conversation. If you’re interested in refining your thinking around Augmented Reality and learning how to develop an ARKit app, it’s worth taking the time to fill in our quick AR survey, takes 2 minutes. This will help to crystalize your thought process in terms of how an AR app might enhance your current software offering.