Augmented and Virtual Reality Headed to Macs and iPhones
Apple is giving Google's Tango AR platform a run for its money, and also plans to bring support for VR headsets to future Macs.
Apple has remained mostly silent on its augmented and virtual reality ambitions until Monday, when it announced new tools for software developers that will allow them to bring augmented reality apps to iPhones and iPads.
Called ARKit, the tool harnesses inputs from the motion sensors and cameras in iOS devices to allow apps to superimpose virtual elements -- a 3D mug of steaming coffee, for instance -- onto real-world objects seen through the device's camera -- say, a coffee table.
Using ARKit, developers will be able to create AR apps that work with people's existing iPhones. That's in stark contrast to Google's Tango AR platform, which requires phone manufacturers to integrate Tango-compatible sensors and other hardware into their devices. The upshot is that Apple's entrance into the AR industry will make iOS devices the largest AR platform in the world, according to Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi.
"When you bring the software together with these devices, we actually have hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads that are going to be capable of AR," he said at WWDC on Monday.
ARKit has a lot of features that will excite developers, such as the ability to estimate lighting in the real world so that virtual objects can be covered in realistic-looking shadows. For users familiar with the AR craze that Pokémon Go ushered in last summer, however, the end results will seem like more incremental improvements: instead of having a game character floating in front of you as you move your phone, for instance, he'll be stationary on the sidewalk and will remain there even if you move your phone's camera to a different spot.
Apple iOS users will start to see apps made with ARKit when iOS 11 rolls out this fall. Meanwhile, Apple also announced that virtual reality will be coming to Macs, which don't currently support the graphics cards required to power high-end VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. That changes with the upcoming ability in new Macs to support SteamVR and connect to external graphics cards via Thunderbolt enclosures. Game developers will be the first to get their hands on the external graphics cards, Apple said, and they could reach consumers next year.
Also today, Apple unveiled iOS 11 and a new version of macOS known as High Sierra. It also beefed up its Mac lineup, teased a $5,000 iMac Pro, showed off a new iPad Pro and revealed its Echo rival, HomePod.