ARKit 2 Adds Tons of Features We Want in a Headset

If you believe big companies such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft, augmented reality (AR) is the future. At WWDC 2018, Apple took a big step forward with an update of its own AR initiative, ARKit.

ARKit 2 is a significant update to the original, and a noticeable improvement from version 1.5. Apple has upgraded just about everything, from scene identification to the way the platform handles data.

The first big improvement is scene detection: ARKit can now identify 360-degree scenes, which comes on the heels of version 1.5’s ability to identify vertical planes (such as walls). This helps ARKit map the space with dimensional awareness; it will know your room is 15×15 feet with 10-foot tall ceilings, for example. So when you hang that 36-inch square painting in augmented reality, it’s going to look accurate.

ARKit 2 also creates maps of flat planes in a smarter way, which is the basis for a few other tricks. First, you can place 3D objects on any space, and see them from any angle; so long as you have a 3D object available, it can be placed anywhere. The platform will also examine space lighting and other items in the scene so your virtual images look more realistic when it comes to shading or reflections.

Second, the smarter scene scanning allows for multiple users. The obvious ‘win’ here is gaming, where two people can play virtual ping-pong, or battle some aliens. But if you consider the core concept – multiple people in a 3D environment – the options seem endless.

Any maps created are saved on the user’s device, and shared. I may be able to map a room and drop some items in it (let’s say some balls randomly around the room, for a dodgeball game), which a second player would see once I invited them to the game. Once I’ve ended the session, the other person no longer sees the scene unless I explicitly share it with them persistently. A future where you see virtual notes throughout your home left there by a significant other is plausible.

Users can also share items or scenes with anyone. If you’re old enough to remember geocaching, it’s reasonable to think (or fear?) it could make a digital return. This time, instead of digging for trinkets, you’d get something virtual!

Naturally, end-users are ultimately responsible for the integrity of AR scenes. It’s best to have a well-lit environment, with physical items that don’t move, and flat surfaces that the camera can identify with ease.

Apple has made a ton of improvements to smartphone AR, and they’re all impressive. But we have to wonder if this is all groundwork for an AR headset coming later on. Most think it’ll be 2020 before we see an Apple headset arrive, but it’s hard to overlook how ARKit 2’s core features would enhance the headset experience.