Apple Quietly Jumps Into AR Race At An Underhyped WWDC 2017



Apple’s critics were out in force following this year’s WWDC keynote, but are they missing the bigger picture?

The leading headline coming out of this year’s WWDC was that there was no headline. Across hundreds of slides, Apple CEO Tim Cook and his team introduced several new developments, but few seemed to galvanize the tech community.

If this were a movie, you might not head to the theatre. WWDC is a showcase, after all, and onlookers were expecting more of the flash and pizazz seen in years past, which have included announcements like the debut of the App Store and the release of the iPhone 4.

While the individual announcements may not have wowed the tech community, Apple did begin to lay out its future endeavors in augmented reality—an important update given the company’s dominance when it comes to smartphone hardware—with the announcement of a developer platform for augmented reality.

Apple’s platform is called ARKit, and it allows developers to create augmented reality apps. One of the buzziest features of ARKit is a feature called “world tracking” that allows developers to work within a 3D model. Within the platform, developers can pin objects in space to make them appear more realistic. One potential implication hinted at by Apple: a smartphone app from IKEA that allows potential customers to digitally “place” furniture pieces within a real world space.

As noted in Verge, ARKit competes with Google’s Tango platform, but has a very clear advantage in that it will be pre-built on all Apple devices. Conversely, individual Android manufacturers are responsible for building the Tango hardware within their phones.

With regards to the other big player, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg made AR a central theme at F8 earlier this year and hinted at his aspirations for building a screenless future (e.g. AR via wearables vs. smartphones). As a leader in “screens,” Apple’s advances in AR are a move to make their technology central to augmented reality experiences in the coming years.

Here are some other updates announced at WWDC:

  • Apple announced the HomePod smart speaker, which competes with Amazon Echo and Sonos. The Siri-enabled HomePod syncs with Apple Music and iTunes to play music or podcasts, and can be connected to Apple’s smart home app. The 7-inch speaker retails for $349.
  • With regards to Mac overall, Apple announced software and hardware updates geared toward VR. A new macOS is coming this fall, named High Sierra.
  • Coming this fall, iOS 11 will allow for peer-to-peer payments (uh oh, Venmo) and empower people to control how and when location data is shared with apps like Uber. Siri will also get a bit smarter with the ability to suggest actions based on your history.
  • An overhaul to the App Store—the first in nine years.

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