Apple

Apple Removes Safari Location Tracking, Disrupting AR/VR

An update in Apple’s Safari browser might disrupt augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences. A document published to Apple’s developer site revealed that the next update to Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 12.2, will include a new privacy setting called “Motion and Orientation Access” for its browser, which will be disabled by default.

While Apple did not respond to a request for comment, tweets from two people who claim to be company employees, and who work on Safari, stated that sites visited through the mobile version of the browser will need a user’s permission before they can track an iOS device’s motion and orientation, according to DigiDay.

“I’m sort of freaked out,” said Christopher Lepkowski, a technical director for digital agency Pretty Big Monster, which “has worked on web-based AR and VR experiences for” companies like Sony Pictures. The update could have an impact on web-based experiences, such as promotional sites for Sony’s “First Man” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” as well as a VR experience for DreamWorks TV‘s “She-Ra.”

“It’s definitely going to break things,” said Kai Tier, executive tech director of R/GA, who also pointed out that web-based AR or VR experiences aren’t very popular at the moment.

He continued, “I would say the main spend at the moment for AR experiences are on platforms like Snapchat, which are apps, mainly because that’s where people are already engaging, so there’s a built-in user base.”

Still, it should be comforting to know that there are ways around the issue, such as when sites detect when people are using mobile Safari, and display messages asking them to enable the motion and orientation settings. Since the desktop version of these experiences do not use the accelerometer or gyroscope, developers could adapt them to mobile so that people can navigate by simply swiping the screen instead of moving the iPhone or iPad around.

“Because we currently do have versions that don’t rely on the accelerometer, it isn’t a huge effort to change which experience the user is served. But any update does require us to do testing, and then go through the whole deployment process,” said Tier.

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