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.
Last week Apple announced that the forthcoming iOS 11.3, currently in beta, would introduce ARKit 1.5 – the next evolution of AR tools the company launched last summer.
ARKit 1.5 brings enhancements in a number of ways, including being able to map surfaces better, offer 50% better resolution, and more. The most exciting improvement, however, is that ARKit can now be used to interact with vertical surfaces, rather than only horizontal ones.
Developers have begun experimenting with the new features included in ARKit 1.5, and several have shared their early tests on Twitter.
One of childhood’s simple joys for many of us was getting our creative juices flowing by playing with building blocks. It’s one of those tactile, imaginative outlets that adulthood features far less of. Blocks also brought the added benefit of getting to destroy the work you’d built – a task similarly delightful to the actual building.
Recently my wife and I were babysitting twin 1-year-old boys, owners of a big bucket full of colorful, cardboard bricks. All throughout the night I enjoyed building small towers with the bricks, and the boys would have a blast knocking those towers down. Even when they were on the other side of the room distracted by something else, if they saw me stack three or more bricks together, they’d quickly come running to play demolition crew.
Playground AR is a new app from developer Marc Sureda that uses ARKit to bring the joys of childhood play to all ages – and with no mess to clean up either. The app provides a variety of toys that let you both build and destroy, with a physics system backing it all up to make the experience a delight.
There are three main modes in Playground AR: one is for placing objects in your playground, another lets you better survey and capture photos of what you’ve built, and the last is for picking up and moving existing objects. Objects you can place of course include blocks of varying shapes and sizes, but there are also lots of other fun, interesting toys to experiment with – trucks, helicopters, dice, spinning widgets, and more.
The physics engine is what makes Playground truly shine. Stacking blocks too high, for example, will cause your creation to topple over if the stack isn’t well-balanced. Dominos can be strung together in an elaborate setup then knocked down by a rolling ball. Magnetized blocks will stick together even if gravity or another object forces them to fall. Balloons can be attached to objects, and depending on an object’s weight and the number of balloons, the object will eventually be sent flying into the stratosphere. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite physics demonstration: placing bombs and TNT containers in your playground to blow everything up. It’s brilliant.
If you want to spend some time goofing around in an AR sandbox, building and destroying in all kinds of creative ways, you can pickup Playground AR on the App Store for $1.99.
When was the last time you wanted to measure something, and the tool you needed was already within arm’s reach? I can’t think of a single time that’s happened to me. I don’t work in construction, so I don’t carry measuring tape or any similar tools around with me. But you know what I do always have with me? My iPhone. With AR MeasureKit, developer Rinat Khanov has created a toolkit that can be carried around with no extra baggage – all you need is your phone.
In late June when developer ARKit demos began showing up online, one of the first prominent videos featured digital measuring tape. Many people were amazed at ARKit’s ability to measure distance with such accuracy, while others simply wrote the idea off as a silly use of AR. While I think a simple AR ruler as seen in that first demo would have still been useful, MeasureKit offers much more than that. The app contains a comprehensive set of tools that makes your iPhone or iPad into a sort of Swiss Army Knife of measuring.
Apple’s developer site now contains Human Interface Guidelines for augmented reality apps. The guidelines are not hard, fast rules for developers working with ARKit, but more “best practices” Apple suggests for an ideal user experience. Guidelines that stand out include:
Use audio and haptic feedback to enhance the immersive experience. A sound effect or bump sensation is a great way to provide confirmation that a virtual object has come into contact with a physical surface or other virtual object.
To the extent possible, provide hints in context. Placing a three-dimensional rotation indicator around an object, for example, is more intuitive than presenting text-based instructions in an overlay.
Favor direct manipulation over separate onscreen controls. It’s more immersive and intuitive when a user can touch an object onscreen and interact with it directly, rather than interact with separate controls on a different part of the screen.
Suggest possible fixes if problems occur. Analysis of the user’s environment and surface detection can fail for a variety of reasons—there’s not enough light, a surface is too reflective, a surface doesn’t have enough detail, or there’s too much camera motion. If your app is notified of insufficient detail or too much motion, or if surface detection takes too long, offer suggestions for resolving the problem.
ARKit is a brand new technology that opens up a world of possibilities to app developers. But alongside its potential for magical, immersive experiences is the potential for user frustration as developers learn the hard way what works best. Apple’s guidelines – though released later than I’m sure many developers would like – should help minimize those frustrations.
TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino attended an ARKit demo event yesterday and got a taste of a wide variety of augmented reality apps coming to iOS 11. The apps shown off represent a broad range of categories including Ikea’s home decorating app, an interactive version of the popular children’s story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and a game based on The Walking Dead TV series that lets you fight zombies in your backyard.
As Panzarino notes, each of the apps demonstrated rely on very few onscreen controls or no controls at all other than the change of perspective accomplished by moving an iOS device. The apps also take very different approaches to prompting users to scan for flat surfaces when started, something which I expect to coalesce around consensus best practices as developers get their apps into the hands of customers. But perhaps most impressive of all is what developers have accomplished since WWDC. The development time, as Panzarino describes it, has been:
Incredibly short, all things considered. Some of the apps I saw were created or translated into ARKit nearly whole sale [sic] within 7-10 weeks. For asset-heavy apps like games this will obviously be a tougher ramp, but not if you already have the assets.
The TechCrunch roundup of six ARKit apps includes short descriptions and a video demonstration of each. The two demos that impressed me the most are Ikea’s app and the AR version of A Very Hungry Caterpillar, which you can watch after the break below, but be sure to head over to TechCrunch to see all the videos because each is a unique interpretation of what is possible with ARKit.