With Apple ARKit’s Launch, Is AR’s Mainstream Moment Here?

Last year, the whole world had Pokémon Go fever – and a look at a whole new reality via their smartphone. Can Apple’s ARKit turn augmented tech into more than just a fun fad? To find out, in latest PYMNTS.com Developer Tracker™, powered by Vantiv, PYMNTS spoke with a trio of AR experts to find out. Plus, notable headlines from around the space and rankings of 267 developers, inside the new Tracker™.

Last summer, the world suddenly came down with a fever for Pokémon GO. More than half a billion people around the globe got their first taste of augmented and virtual reality possibilities as they captured, collected and battled the digital denizens of the game on their mobile devices — all while trying to avoid bumping into one another as they stayed glued to their screens.

Now, with the recent Apple announcement of an AR-based software development suite known as ARKit, the AR capabilities that first captured gamers’ attention last summer — including interactive renderings of the colorful characters in augmented real-life environments — may only be a preview of what the technology can provide. In the weeks since Apple announced it was enabling software designers to build AR apps inside its iOS app development suite, demos showing off the technology’s potential and a storm of predictions and projections have followed.

With the hype machine on high following the ARKit launch, PYMNTS caught up with AR executives to obtain their initial impressions. In interviews, the executives said the impact of Apple’s ARKit could, in fact, live up to the lofty expectations that have been set for it.

After all, as Shauna Heller, founder of augmented and virtual reality development firm Clay Park and former developer for Oculus, pointed out, when Apple does something, it tends to make a big impact. Just ask anyone with an iPhone.

“Apple has always been aligned with artists and the creative community, and now they are tapping into AR and VR in a way they were not before,” Heller said. “Artists have a way of finding the humanity in technology and finding ways to get it into the hands of a lot of people. Giving them a platform like this will give them more opportunities to do that, and when you combine that with developers who are finding ways to make this useful, there is a lot of potential there.”

AR’s mainstream moment

Other executives echoed Heller’s thoughts on the potential of the ARKit’s impact on the space.

Matt Miesnieks, partner at AR and VR venture capital firm Super Ventures, explained that with Apple’s investment in the space comes an added dose of legitimacy. That legitimacy means developers will now be more inclined to make their own investments in the technology.

“Apple entering a market is generally seen by the tech industry as [a sign that] the market is ‘real’ now,” Miesnieks noted. “It will bring … more developers to build AR apps. These will be experiments at first, but as ARKit adds features, the apps will become more sophisticated and we’ll rapidly see AR become useful to regular people.”

The “regular” folks to whom Miesnieks was referring are average consumers, people who don’t necessarily care about the latest and greatest innovations, but want tech that somehow manages to make their lives easier. Average consumers are typically critical to a technology’s long-term success, because without adoption from the critical mass, it’s unlikely to go far.

Heller noted AR and VR have already received attention and investment from early adopters and tech-enthusiasts. In fact, firms have so far found some success selling software to companies to train employees on high-priced equipment, thus reducing the risk of inexperienced workers damaging it.

But, she pointed out, while there has been interest in some niche markets, unless AR and VR can prove to be useful and enjoyable for the average consumer, the technology will never have the worldwide impact that games like Pokémon GO seemed to foreshadow.

“When AR and VR applications solve problems for everyday consumers, when they have that app that they just can’t live without, that’s when VR and AR on the consumer side will really kick off,” Heller said. “Right now, there isn’t that killer consumer app, really across any vertical. It can be hard to gauge what that might look like, but there’s a lot of potential when it gets into the hands of anyone with an iPhone.” 

Living up to the hype

With all the attention and lofty predictions for the ARKit, will it be able to match the hype?

Yohan Baillot, CEO of AR research and development firm ARCortex, said he’s wary of some problems not tackled by the ARKit in its current incarnation. For instance, it cannot save already used pictures and other data more than once, meaning it has to regenerate images each time, he said.

Baillot also pointed out the ARKit software struggles to recognize its position in the real world, which can interfere with how it projects AR and VR landscapes. What’s more, the software still cannot fully scan many structures, meaning the structures won’t appear to be entirely realistic in the AR projection.

Despite these flaws, however, Baillot said the ARKit’s potential is real.

“ARKit is democratizing tracking, or the ability to know where you are looking at to overlay AR precisely,” he said. “They’re allowing it to be done on several million common phones and tablets at once. Previously, this was only open to specialized devices and niche commodities.”

Additionally, Miesnieks noted that while the technology will likely more than deliver on current promises, it may not happen as quickly as some observers expect. The technology still needs to be refined and further developed before it can have the predicted impact, he said.

Just because it’s not coming quickly, doesn’t mean it isn’t coming at all, according to Miesnieks.

“It will more than live up to the hype — it will exceed anything we’re projecting,” he said. “But it will take longer than people want. Much longer.”

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About the Tracker

The PYMNTS.com Developer Tracker™, powered by Vantiv, provides the payments ecosystem with a view into how software developers are using new technologies to create innovative business opportunities and enable merchants to optimize the ways in which they engage with shoppers today. The developer community within the tracker is separated into three categories: Shopping and Payments, Operations and Marketing.