ARKit Is Apple’s Move into Augmented Reality; It Is Not Laying the Foundation for AR Glasses


I predicted that one of the ways Apple could surprise us with the iPhone 8, on the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, was with augmented reality features, and expected Apple to announce an SDK for Augmented Reality at the WWDC 2017.

So it wasn’t surprising that Apple unveiled the ARKit. However, I have been thinking that by introducing AR features in iPhone 8, Apple was just laying the foundation for Augmented Glasses, which would be the next big thing from the company.

Even Gene Munster, one of the most reputed Apple analyst, who now works at Loup Ventures, thinks so too:

Our best guess is that Apple Glasses, an AR-focused wearable, will be released mid FY20. This is based on the significant resources Apple is putting into AR, including ARKit and the recent SensoMotoric Instruments acquisition. We believe Apple see’s [sic] the AR future as a combination of the iPhone and some form of a wearable.

I was hoping that Apple will launch the AR Glasses next year, but Munster predicts in a 5-year forecast for Apple that the AR Glasses will be released in FY20.

But John Gruber of Daring Fireball makes a very valid point. ARkit is Apple’s move into augmented reality and Apple isn’t just laying the foundation for AR Glasses. Gruber writes:

Dedicated AR glasses don’t make much sense for mainstream, daily-use, augmented reality. (They make perfect sense for specialized use, like the way Boeing is using Google Glass today to help assemble airplanes.) The phone is the perfect form factor for casual augmented reality — the camera is great, the display is great, and we all already have them in our pockets. People don’t want to wear glasses all the time, and even if they do, augmented reality is useful and interesting for an entirely different set of things than what a touchscreen interface is useful for.

Gruber is right. It is hard to imagine that there will be widespread adoption of AR Glasses. It is probably the reason Google dropped Google Glass. I have been puzzled by the move, but now I get it. Even I prefer to use contact lenses compared to glasses. So it has been difficult to imagine people using glasses in mass for augmented reality. In the US alone, more than 30 million people wear contact lenses. I am sure majority of them wear contact lenses because they prefer them over prescription glasses.

We are already seeing some real world examples from developers on how iOS 11’s ARKit could bring mind-blowing immersive augmented reality experiences like the “inter-dimensional portal” seen below and Flyover mode in iOS 11 Maps app powered by ARKit.

I expect iPhone 8 to make this experience even better as it is rumored to come with an improved camera and an infrared module.  The combination of the two along with advanced software algorithms will allow the iPhone 8 to capture 2D images and depth information which tech evangelist and entrepreneur Robert Scoble claims will allow the next iPhone to offer groundbreaking new AR experiences. The next-generation OLED screen should enhance that experience even further in the iPhone 8.

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Apple may end up launching AR Glasses but as Gruber wagers, it would be for use cases that are new and different from those of the phone. AR Glasses would make sense where it would be impractical to hold an iPhone or iPad for a long time such as watching an augmented reality movie or for more industrial use like the way Boeing is using Google Glass to build airplanes. However, Apple’s AR Glasses would be like the AirPods, an accessory for the iPhone, not a replacement for it.

Munster predicts that in 10 years, iPhone will be around, but would be a much smaller part of Apple’s business as Apple Glasses slowly gains market adoption. While I would like to believe that we would switch to a different interface from a smartphone where we don’t want have to keep holding it, I don’t see augmented reality glasses being the solution.

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➤ List of iPhone and iPad Compatible with ARKit in iOS 11

What do you think? Would you be comfortable wearing AR Glasses all the time? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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