Looking at this distance-measuring app, it seems so simple and obvious. Of course your super-powered, multi-core phone should be smart enough to measure out basic distances, and there have indeed been many wonky apps trying to do that in the past. But measuring with AR, as already shown off by Google Tango phones, allows you a much more intuitive method for doing it. Having the phone actually aware of the three-dimensional space in its view allows for precise measurements, which can be represented with a neat hologram of a measuring tape. Apple’s advantage in the contest for doing this best is simple: while Google Tango demands special hardware, ARKit requires only that you have a recent iOS device. At WWDC earlier this month, Craig Federighi described ARKit as “the largest AR platform in the world,” and he was right.
This isn’t just about raw engineering brilliance. Google and Microsoft can easily go toe-to-toe with Apple in that realm. This is about design, and making a sophisticated technology approachable to everyday people. It seems Apple still understands this better than their competitors.
In 2016, Microsoft introduced its approach to augmented reality with their big, fat headset, the HoloLens. They demonstrated how you could play Minecraft in your living room, stacking virtual blocks in real space. This demo reminded me that despite the departure of Steve Ballmer and their new-found love of hardware in their Surface devices, this is the same company that came to multi-touch market with a $10,000 table. Some things never change.
The ARKit demo apps in the story quoted above might look cute or trivial, but as Clay Christiansen said, the next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a toy.
Sure, a phone screen isn’t as immersive as an AR headset, but this is just the first step and one with a much lower barrier to entry than a big headset.