Last week, The New York Times announced that it had added an augmented reality feature to its iOS app. The first article with embedded AR content was a preview of the feature published last week that explained to readers how it worked. At the bottom of the article was a newspaper box that could be dropped into your surroundings. I showed it off to some friends over the weekend, and everyone was impressed by how realistic it looked as they walked around the box in a neighbor’s kitchen.
This week, the Times rolled the feature out as part of its Winter Olympics coverage. In Four of the World’s Best Olympians, as You’ve Never Seen Them Before, the publication spotlights figure skater Nathan Chen, speed skater J.R. Celski, hockey player Alex Rigsby, and snowboarder Anna Gasser. The results are impressive. I placed each athlete in my living room, then walked around them. From each angle, snippets of text about what I was seeing were overlaid on the image providing additional details and context. The app also makes use of haptic feedback on the iPhone to alert users to new information as they examine a scene.
With the ubiquity of the smartphone in increasingly younger classrooms, integrating them into education is fast becoming a requirement for teachers. What better way to tame smartphones in the classroom than to make them part of the learning process?
Matthew Braun, developer of SketchParty TV (one of my favorite Apple TV games), released a new app to do just that. Waypoint EDU uses AR to make the phone not only a learning tool, but a truly interactive experience that can take place outdoors. Or anywhere.
From the student perspective, it works like this: students see a waypoint on a map of their current location and move around to find it. A la Pokemon Go, they search by looking through their phones, scanning for an out-of-place object such as a (miniature) colosseum sitting in a park. Once they've found the waypoint, they answer a quiz question to reveal the next waypoint. Think augmented reality geocaching.
From the teacher (or parent) side, creating a curriculum is pretty easy. I didn't get into creating a fully customized one while I was trying it out, but editing the waypoints and related questions is simple. Once you have your curriculum set up, you just pull up the map and draw the playfield with your finger. The waypoints are automatically placed within the playfield, ready for the Hunt to be shared with the students via AirDrop. You can currently add artwork from a library, and the ability to add your own artwork will be a paid feature in a future update.
Waypoint EDU is a free app. Obviously, it has the requirement that everyone in the group has access to an iPhone. In situations where that's possible, Waypoint EDU seems to me like the future of field trips. Below is a video of Waypoint EDU in action. You can find it on the App Store, and get more info at waypointedu.com.
In an update released for its iOS shopping app, Amazon has introduced a new way of viewing items from the online retailer: AR View. Built on Apple's ARKit technology in iOS 11, AR View provides shoppers with a better understanding of how products will look when placed inside their homes.
AR View is accessed inside the Amazon app by tapping the camera button, then selecting AR View from the assortment of camera options. You'll then get to browse through a limited selection of product categories, such as Living Room, Kitchen, and Electronics; there's also a Top Picks section. Unlike the similar AR experience from IKEA Place, only one product can be previewed in Amazon's AR View at a time. After placing a product in AR, you can move its position or rotate it, and pressing the button with three dots will take you to the full product page for initiating a purchase.
Amazon claims that thousands of items are available in AR View, but currently only a fraction of that estimate appears for me inside the app; we should except the number of AR-compatible items to grow over the coming holiday shopping season. It also wouldn't be surprising to see AR View roll out to other parts of the app in the future, such that if you're viewing the product page for an Amazon Echo, for example, there will be a button that allows you to instantly view the item in AR.
Today's version of AR View is a first step toward enhancing the Amazon shopping experience with AR. There's plenty more work to be done, but it's exciting to see a glimpse into how transformative AR can potentially be for online shopping.
ARKit is one of the iOS 11 features I’m really excited about along with iPad improvements, changes to Notes, and better screenshot workflows. The “problem” with ARKit is that Apple isn’t offering a proper AR app for iOS yet – it’s a framework for developers to create AR experiences. Thus, until you play with an ARKit demo, it’s hard to understand the extent of Apple’s efforts and the potential for future ARKit-enabled apps.
Fortunately, the folks at Made with ARKit have been collecting early demoes shared by developers showing a variety of AR apps that will be possible later this year. And some of these are already incredible. From a rocket landing in your backyard to robots dancing in your living room and obvious measuring tapes, these videos give us an early glimpse at the promise of ARKit and the quality of tracking and rendering on an iPhone’s screen.
I don’t know if these showcases will turn into actual shipping products this Fall, but I have a feeling this new category of apps will become a great reason for millions of users to upgrade to iOS 11 quickly. I can’t wait to play with some of these AR apps.
At WWDC, Craig Federighi demoed ARKit, Apple's new augmented reality API and mentioned that Apple was teaming up with IKEA on AR. The collaboration was mentioned again recently by Tim Cook in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.
Now in an interview with Digital.di, Michael Valdsgaard, Digital Transformation Manager for Ikea's parent company, has provided further details of its upcoming AR app:
This will be the first augmented reality app that allows you to make reliable buying decisions.
IKEA has big plans for the app:
At launch, 500-600 products will be in the app. In future, it will play a key role in new product lines.
According to Valdsgaard,
When we launch new products, they will come first in the AR app.
Based on the interview, IKEA and Apple feel like a natural fit. IKEA has hundreds of 3D models ready to use with ARKit and Apple has a huge install base of iOS users for IKEA's app. Moreover, IKEA can help demonstrate the types of applications that AR can enable beyond the gaming industry.
Adario Strange, writing for Mashable, picks up on Tim Cook's answer to a question that was posed to him last Friday when he was interviewed by Senator Orrin Hatch at the Utah Tech Tour.
"AR [augmented reality] I think is going to become really big," said Cook. "VR [virtual reality], I think, is not gonna be that big, compared to AR … How long will it take? AR gonna take a little while, because there’s some really hard technology challenges there. But it will happen. It will happen in a big way. And we will wonder, when it does [happen], how we lived without it. Kind of how we wonder how we lived without our [smartphones] today."
This is not the first time that Tim Cook has commented on the potential for AR. Soon after the release (and phenomenal success) of Pokemon Go, Tim Cook said that Apple was "high on AR in the long run" when answering a question during an Apple earnings call:
It also does show that AR can be really great. We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR for the long run, we think there’s great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity. The number one thing is to make sure our products work well with other developers’ kind of products like Pokemon, that’s why you see so many iPhones in the wild chasing Pokemons.
You can watch the full Tim Cook interview from the Utah Tech Tour on YouTube.