The augmented reality wars have begun.
For Google, there’s one fairly major problem: Apple’s iPhone 8 and the public release of iOS 11 (the system ARKit developers are creating apps for) is about to hit millions and millions of eager consumers who have been saving up for the 10th anniversary iPhone.
The debut of the new iPhone is just a couple of weeks away. With Google announcing that ARCore is currently only available for the Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8, Apple is primed to be the public’s first real escort into the AR age.
Sure, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has been well reviewed, but it’s just one among many Android handsets, and according to some reports, sales of the S8 are significantly slower than the previous version. And the Pixel, at an estimated 1 million sold, doesn’t even begin to compete against the iPhone’s massive global footprint.
“[ARKit and ARCore] both have great functionality without appreciable differences,” says Beck Besecker, CEO and co-founder of Marxent, an AR and VR software firm that has built prototype apps using both ARKit and ARCore. “Combined, they lend significant momentum to mass market augmented reality experiences. It’s a big wake up call to both investors and developers that the technology to support AR experiences is here, and that now is the time to take advantage.”
“The killer apps for AR will end up being related to communications, collaboration, learning, [and] search.”
But while Google spent so much time on mobile VR (how many of us have ever seen a Gear VR or Daydream View headset in use at an airport or cafe?), Apple focused on AR, a strategy designed to harness its existing advantages in the smartphone space. (Even the announcement video for ARCore is on Google’s “VR” YouTube page.)
Now Apple’s strategy is about to pay off by putting the company in the position of being the brand the mainstream associates with AR first, with all others playing catch-up. And aside from the iPhone 8, ARKit-powered apps will also work with any iPhone 6S or later, as well as the iPad Pro.
Sure, ARCore, with its enormous Android user base targeting roughly 100 million devices, will likely ramp up quickly. But Apple taking the lead in such a major new space effectively brands AR as an iPhone innovation—even though it clearly isn’t.
The only other important factor now will be killer apps, i.e. what is AR actually good for?
Apps like Pokémon Go have already demonstrated that AR games will probably be popular. Titles coming from the makers of Star Wars and The Walking Dead (which AMC is specifically touting as being made with ARKit) are already generating excitement. But beyond gaming, the uses for AR are still somewhat murky.
“In terms of what you’ll see early on… simple games, dancing hot dogs and gimmicky marketing activations,” says Besecker. “The killer apps for AR will end up being related to communications, collaboration, learning, search, and contextual configuration tools — truly useful tools that solve problems that take advantage of the unique characteristics of AR by allowing people to collaborate, integrate and configure 3D content within actual space.”
We have yet to see any truly popular non-gaming AR apps for mobile, so AR still has some work to do to prove its worth with the average smartphone user.
“AR represents the beginning of a fundamental shift in how we perceive and interact with physical and digital environments by merging them,” says Scott Flynn, director of development for AR and VR at Unity, which is working to support both AR platforms. “At its core, [AR] will remove the barriers between us and the intrinsic data associated with every object, person, or place in the world.”
He’s right. However, it won’t just happen. It all depends on the apps.
But whatever the killer AR app turns out to be, it’s likely to emerge on iOS first. Nevertheless, now that Google’s ARCore is in the hunt as well, we don’t have to worry about Apple—and its comparatively closed platform—making all the rules and calling the shots as the technology hits the mainstream.
Begun, the AR wars have, and this is going to be a fun ride.