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Apple’s ARKit: Everything the pros need to know

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Apple's World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) always brings goodies for users and developers, and this year was no exception. With the announcement of iOS 11, Apple unveiled a new framework called ARKit. The development kit is integrated with the latest hardware to allow for a level of augmented reality (AR) integration never seen before on iOS devices.

This article is a quick introduction to ARKit. We'll update this resource periodically when there's new information about the AR development framework.

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)

Executive summary

  • What is ARKit? iOS 11 includes a new framework in the iOS Software Development Kit (SDK) called ARKit. This framework allows developers to create augmented reality apps and take advantage of the hardware and software capabilities of iOS devices.
  • Why does ARKit matter? Like virtual reality, augmented reality is a hot topic in tech. AR allows app users to place virtual objects in a real world, and then interact with them. AR apps will be especially popular for the gaming, shopping, and industrial sectors.
  • Who does ARKit affect? iOS 11 includes ARKit and allows developers to create apps. This also affects users, because they can download and use ARKit apps on their iOS devices.
  • When is ARKit available? ARKit has been available to developers as part of Xcode 9 since its beta release at WWDC '17 in June 2017. ARKit apps has been available to consumers on the App Store with the release of iOS 11 on September 19, 2017.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

What is ARKit?

ARKit is an augmented reality framework Apple introduced at WWDC '17 that is compatible with iOS 11 iPhones and iPads. ARKit lets developers place digital objects in the real world by blending the camera on the screen with virtual objects, allowing users to interact with these objects in a real space.

It does this by using the camera on iOS devices to create a map of the area, detecting things like tabletops, floors, and the location of the device in the physical space using CoreMotion data. The user doesn't have to do any calibration—that's a breakthrough in this space.

ARKit can run on most modern iOS 11 iPhones and iPads, and can utilize Metal's features like SceneKit integration and integrate with third-party tools such as Unity and Unreal Engine.

For end users, ARKit will enable a new level of real-world integration never before seen on iOS devices. A new generation of apps will be able to be built that can do things like show furniture inside of your house while shopping in an app; show your dream car parked in your garage to see if it will fit; and many other inventive uses of this technology that developers haven't discovered yet.

Apple created a Swift Playgrounds challenge that uses ARKit. The Swift Playgrounds app can be downloaded for iPad from the App Store. Developers and end users can see how these AR apps are created and used.

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Why does ARKit matter?

AR has been a hotbed technology the past several years, and ARKit affirms this technology is here to stay and will become an ever-growing field for apps in the future. The use of AR in spaces other than gaming will be a game changer.

ARKit apps are currently in their infancy, but there is real potential in the apps that can be created with it. Apple has provided an amazing framework that is leaps and bounds better than what was previously available to create AR apps. Developers no longer have to develop a speciality, but instead can use this framework to create AR features in their apps without any prior experience working with AR.

SEE: Executive's guide to the business value of VR and AR (free ebook) (TechRepublic)

With the iPhone X, Apple has created a true AR device with a better camera that will provide both facial tracking and better positioning and topology detection.

In the future, we could see apps that are used by industrial workers, medical workers, scientists, and other technical professionals to overlay critical information over a real-world scene.

Additional resources

Who does ARKit affect?

ARKit-enabled devices are any iPhone or iPad running iOS 11 that have the Apple A9, A10, or A11 processor; these devices are required to run the advanced Metal graphics. At launch, most of the apps that support ARKit are in the games category; as more developers work with AR, we will see an increase in the number of useful apps.

Some of the popular apps that are available at launch with ARKit support include RoomScan Pro, Human Anatomy Atlas 2018, and Night Sky 5, as well as the following.


Tools and other apps

  • (Free): Place life-size 3D furniture models in a room to see how they will look; you can even walk around it to get a sense of scale.
  • Edmunds (Free): Place a life-size 3D model of a car that's in their library in your driveway or garage to see if the car will fit.
  • MeasureKit (Free): This is an AR utility that lets you measure a room or other object in real life using a virtual tape measure.

Additional resources

When is ARKit available?

ARKit was available beginning in June 2017 to developers in the iOS 11 beta and the Xcode 9 beta. The final version of 1.0 of ARKit was released alongside iOS 11 in September 2017. Developers began making ARKit apps available on the App Store for iOS beginning September 19, 2017.

Version changes

  • June 2017: Apple released the beta of ARKit alongside Xcode 9 and iOS 11 betas.
  • September 2017: Apple announced iPhone X with TrueDepth camera, which enables ARKit to detect position, topology, and the user's facial expressions.
  • September 2017: Apple released iOS 11 to the public and Xcode 9 to developers with the newly included Face Tracking features in ARKit.
  • November 2017: Apple will release the iPhone X to the public, and developers will be able to take advantage of the facial tracking features in the TrueDepth camera system.

Additional resources

Image: Apple, Inc.
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