Parallel Realities

With Support from Apple and Google, Can AR Miss?

Back in June 2017, Apple’s introduction of ARKit at its Worldwide Developers Conference was notable. The software framework enables the development of high-level augmented reality (AR) applications without the need for dedicated sensors.

Apple achieved something remarkable using only software and existing hardware. iOS devices running on Apple’s A9 processor and above will support apps built on ARKit. This means that the platform will work with the iPhone 6s and newer models.

AR has been around in various forms for more than half a century, but up until the summer of 2016, few people had experienced it. Pokemon Go was the greatest mass-market success of an AR application to date, but by emerging standards, it’s rudimentary.

Last week, Google announced an Android counterpart to Apple’s ARKit, dubbed ARCore. The solution will allow developers to create AR applications for devices running Android 7.0 and later versions of the operating system. According to Google, 100 million devices will be capable of running apps based on ARCore.

Prior to ARCore, Google’s efforts in AR mainly centred on its Project Tango initiative. There are currently two devices on the market based on the Project Tango reference design, each with limited distribution channels: one from Lenovo and the other from Asus.

Project Tango hasn’t received much enthusiasm from developers, but Google’s new ARCore platform could lead to quick scale given the lower requirements. Only a fraction of the 2 billion Android devices in use are compatible with ARCore, but average smartphone replacement rates mean there’ll be millions of devices on the market capable of running AR apps built using the software development kit. This is in addition to the huge installed base of smartphones that support Apple’s ARKit.

The success of Pokemon Go offered a positive sign that there’s an appetite for AR apps. It was an appetizer for more to come. At the same time, Apple and Google are encouraging third-party developers to create innovative apps. We believe it won’t take long before a series of new-generation killer AR apps begin to appear on smartphones.

These software development kits combine with increasingly robust hardware and connectivity. Whereas VR is struggling to fulfil its promise owing to a lack of content, as well as challenges in pricing and form factor, AR looks set to be the spark that captures developer interest thanks to the scale of Apple and Google’s smartphone businesses. As the iOS and Android platforms have repeatedly shown, once developer engagement reaches a tipping point, momentum largely drives itself and disrupts new markets in the process.