Apple CEO Tim Cook has been talking up augmented reality for the past year, but don’t take that to mean that Apple will launch a dedicated AR product anytime soon. In an interview with The Independent, Cook said that currently “the technology itself doesn’t exist” to make augmented reality glasses “in a quality way.” And Apple, he said, won’t ship an AR product unless it can deliver “a great experience.”
Cook identified two problems with current AR devices. Their field of view and the quality of their displays, he said, aren’t there yet. “Anything you would see on the market any time soon would not be something any of us would be satisfied with,” Cook told The Independent. “Nor do I think the vast majority of people would be satisfied.”
He’s not wrong. Current augmented reality headsets all leave something to be desired. Microsoft’s HoloLens works, but it has a limited field of view and requires a large headset. Meta’s is less expensive but similarly huge. And Google Glass (which doesn’t even totally count as augmented reality) flopped badly immediately upon release.
But even if Apple doesn’t plan on diving into dedicated AR hardware, it already made an enormous play for the augmented reality market this year — perhaps doing more than any company to date. With the release of iOS 11 last month, recent iPhones were granted the ability to perform all kinds of AR tricks using something Apple calls ARKit. It lets developers make augmented reality games and makes it easy for camera apps to implement augmented reality stickers.
That means Apple is in an early position to be at the center of a possible boom in augmented reality experiences. Cook seems to believe as much. He compared the introduction of AR features to the introduction of the App Store. “Now you couldn’t imagine your life without apps,” he said. “AR is like that. It will be that dramatic.”
Even if it won’t happen right away, there are already signs that Apple is exploring dedicated AR hardware. The company has a patent application that envisions augmented reality glasses, and Apple reportedly has a team of over 1,000 people working on AR. In typical Apple fashion, Cook told The Independent that Apple has no interest in rushing into the market just to get a head start. “We don’t give a rat’s about being first,” he said. “We want to be the best.”
Snapchat is partnering with artist Jeff Koons to bring some of his more iconic sculptures to its app.
From today, Snapchat users will be able to explore his work in augmented reality at select locations around the world. His balloon dog sculptures will be digitally placed in Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York, and others will be placed at other popular public spaces around the world.
When users are near one of the sculptures, the locations of which they can check on Snapchat’s site, the app will point them towards its exact location. The sculpture will appear on the user’s phone as they approach, allowing them to explore it up close, almost as if they were actually standing next to a real sculpture.
Snapchat has a form on its website inviting other artists to bring their work to the messaging platform, but it’s unclear whether it’s currently working with any other artists yet. Right now, it’s essentially like Pokémon Go, but for three-story sculptures of inflated dog balloons.
Snap appears to be betting big on augmented reality as something that will keep users coming back to its app over its much larger competitorslike Instagram. Today’s partnership comes less than a week after Snap launched augmented-reality world lenses—interactive models similar to the Koons sculptures that users can share in their snaps—for advertisers. Right now, users can add a model of the flying car from the forthcoming Blade Runner sequel, or add a man selling Bud Light beer to their snaps. And a few weeks earlier, Snapchat introduced three-dimensional versions of Bitmoji, the user-created cartoon emojis, which users can add to their snaps.
To experience AUGMENTED REALITY, you look through a device screen or put on a headset and a virtual image is laid over the room you’re in. You can see what’s around you, but part of it is blocked out by whatever video projection is playing on your headset.
The Basic Setup
▶ A camera and screen equipped with computer vision, a technology that identifies objects and surfaces. Adding depth and motion sensors lets a device map the room around you and track your motion through it. Your app can then overlay anything from a first-person-shooter zombie attack to the steps to replace a fan belt.
▶ For now it’s pretty simple: catching Pokémon (Pokémon GO), mapping constellations (Sky Map), inking a tattoo (InkHunter), turning you into a half-dog (Snapchat).
AR can’t scan a room and identify every object. But you can teach its computer vision to identify individual objects, like a motorcycle, when prompted, says Mike Campbell, executive vice president of the ThingWorx AR platform. “There’s not enough computing power to analyze everything it sees.”
▶ Hands-on skill training, interior design, wearable computing.
AR can lead a factory worker on a tutorial, but right now the technology won’t change your life unless you own a factory, says Amber Case, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. A Microsoft HoloLens can overlay hidden parts such as a tucked-away air filter and demonstrate its removal. Similar programs are in development for phones and tablets and could soon offer life-changing relief for tasks like Ikea furniture assembly.
▶ Motion sickness sets in when your perceived motion—what you see—doesn’t match what your inner ear feels. That’s not the case with augmented reality, says Robert Scoble, coauthor of The Fourth Transformation: How Augmented Reality & Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything. You’re still looking out on the real world and the same horizon.
▶ AR on mobile devices really is mobile. Unlike high-end VR, which can’t leave a room, AR can enhance a city tour or museum. Last winter, the Detroit Institute of Arts lent visitors Android phones to view the skeleton inside a 2,000-year-old sarcophagus and to see the original colors on a now-biege Assyrian sculpture.
However, AR is difficult to wear on your face. Everybody thinks we’ll be walking around with the next Google Glass but social constraints prevent that, says Case, adding, “Sunshine makes headset AR difficult to see, voice and hand controls are still unreliable.”
How Apple Will Own It
▶ AR will explode in the next year. Today, relatively few devices offer a rich AR experience, leading to a lack of demand for new AR apps—phones with Google’s Tango AR number less than a million. Expect that to change after Apple’s June release of iOS 11 ARKit for developers, says Scoble. ARKit is a bundled suite of AR tools that can reach a quarter billion Apple devices. Additionally, this fall’s new iPhone adds 3D sensors and room mapping that can play hologram-like counter-op games or virtually measure and then furnish a room without draining battery.
From 50 ways to leave your lover, as the song goes, to 750 types of shampoos, we live in an endless sea of choices. And although I haven’t been in the market for hair products in a while, I understand the appeal of picking a product that’s just right for you, even if the decision-making is often agonizing. This quandary (the “Goldilocks Syndrome”, of finding the option that is “just right”) has now made its way to the travel industry, as the race is on to deliver highly personalized and contextual offers for your next flight, hotel room or car rental.
Technology, of course, is both a key driver and enabler of this brave new world of merchandising in the travel business. But this is not your garden variety relational-databases-and-object-oriented-systems tech. What is allowing airlines, hotels and other travel companies to behave more like modern-day retailers is the clever use of self-learning systems, heuristics trained by massive data sets and haptic-enabled video hardware. Machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are starting to dramatically shape the way we will seek and select our travel experiences.
Let every recommendation be right
AI is already starting to change how we search for and book travel. Recent innovation and investment has poured into front-end technologies that leverage machine learning to fine tune search results based on your explicit and implicit preferences. These range from algorithms that are constantly refining how options are ranked on your favorite travel website, to apps on your mobile phone that consider past trips, expressed sentiment (think thumbs up, likes/dislikes, reviews) and volunteered information like frequent traveler numbers.
Business travel, as well, is positioned for the application of AI techniques, even if not all advances are visible to the naked eye. You can take photos of a stack of receipts on your smartphone; optical character recognition software codifies expense amounts and currencies, while machine learning algorithms pick out nuances like categories and spending patterns.
AI is also improving efficiencies in many operational systems that form the backbone of travel. Machine learning is already starting to replace a lot of rule-based probabilistic models in airport systems to optimize flight landing paths to meet noise abatement guidelines, or change gate/ramp sequencing patterns to maximize fuel efficiency.
Making decisions based on reality
VR and AR are still changing and evolving rapidly, with many consumer technology giants publicly announcing products this year we can expect to see rapid early adoption and mainstreaming of these technologies. Just as music, photos, videos and messaging became ubiquitous thanks to embedded capabilities in our phones, future AR and VR applications are likely to become commonplace.
VR offers a rich, immersive experience for travel inspiration, and it is easy to imagine destination content being developed for a VR environment. But VR can also be applied to travel search and shopping. My company, Amadeus, recently demonstrated a seamless flight booking experience that includes seat selection and payment. Virtually “walking” onto an airplane and looking a specific seat you are about to purchase makes it easier for consumers to make informed decisions, while allowing airlines to clearly differentiate their premium offerings.
AR will probably have a more immediate impact than VR, however, in part due to the presence of advanced camera, location and sensor technology already available today on higher-end smartphones. Airports are experimenting with beacon technology where an AR overlay would be able to easily and quickly guide you to your tight connection for an onward flight, or a tailored shopping or dining experience if you have a longer layover.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” goes Arthur C. Clarke’s famously quoted third law. But as we expect more authentic experiences: precise search results, an informed booking or an immersive travel adventure, we can count on increasingly magical technology from systems that learn to deliver us our “perfect bowl of porridge.”
Merge is announcing that the Merge Cube is debuting exclusively this week at Walmart stores across the U.S.
The Merge Cube is a holographic toy that allows users to physically hold and interact with 3D objects using augmented reality (AR) technology. The Merge Cube costs only $15, and it is compatible with iOS and Android devices. It features dozens of games and experiences built for it.
The launch of the Merge Cube in Walmart stores follows the earlier launch of the company’s Merge VR/AR Goggles, which are $60 devices that are available in 5,000 stores worldwide. While the goggles are aimed at those ages 10 and up, the Merge Cube is targeted at kids. The Merge Cube will expand into other major retailers soon.
“We’re excited to bring the Merge Cube to Walmart stores and physically put this technology into people’s hands. With this first-of-its-kind product, people can experience the wonder and amazement of interacting with holographic, 3D content in a natural and intuitive way,” said Merge founder Franklin Lyons, in a statement. “Our Merge Cube and Goggles allow users to interact with more than just a screen — now, they can build worlds, explore the human brain, visit foreign lands, and more through the power of VR/AR.”
Also launching today is Merge Miniverse, a portal for virtual and augmented worlds. Merge makes both physical products and apps, and it also curates a library of family-friendly experiences like 360-degree videos, virtual and augmented reality apps, and games.
The Merge Miniverse allows AR and VR explorers to choose from hundreds of apps and experiences to use with the Merge VR/AR Goggles and Merge Cube, as well as with other AR/VR devices.
Some of the Merge Cube apps currently available on the Miniverse (with more coming soon) include:
- Th!ngs: A collection of holographic minigames where users can hatch and play with their very own Octopet, battle alien forces, and hold a campfire in the palm of their hands.
- Mr. Body: A hands-on holographic anatomy lesson that gives a close-up view of the vital organs and their functions.
- Galactic Explorer: An educational game that lets users hold and interact with the solar system. They can watch as planets orbit the Sun, explore the texture and color of each planet’s surface, and discover interesting facts while navigating the universe.
- Dig!: A world-building game that lets users build and mine to create holographic 3D worlds they can hold in the palm of their hand, save their creations, share with friends, and download and build off others’ pre-built worlds.
Merge is inviting developers from around the world to join them in shaping the future of play. In June, the company announced its Merge AR/VR Developer Fund, a $1 million fund to support the developer community building apps for Merge products.
While companies like Magic Leap and Oculus Rift are spending millions of dollars to develop their new Virtual Reality products and VR startups are raising enormous amounts of money from venture capitalists and angel investors, many people may wonder, “How can I get in the game? Are there any small-business VR ideas with no or very little startup cost?”
Yes, there are a few ways you can start a new business in virtual reality with very little investment. Here are a few ideas for starting a virtual reality business now.
1. Rent out virtual reality headsets.
Virtual reality headsets are pretty pricey right now. Oculus Rift units cost $600, and the HTC Vive goes as high as $800, plus the powerful computer you’ll need to use either one. That means that virtual reality headsets are more of a luxury item than an everyday device.
2. Create theater or arcade experiences.
Virtual reality theaters and pop-ups are opening worldwide right now, attracting both attention and customers. This option will require a bit more of investment — you will need to find a venue as well as buy equipment. But once you find a space, you can create a pop-up movie theater where people sit with VR headsets and enjoy 360 degree videos, virtual reality photo galleries with 360 degree pictures from great photographers, or try-out studios where they can come to experience Oculus Rift or HTC vive. With new VR products coming online all the time, charging for them as entertainment can be profitable.
3. Sell cardboard-like VR headsets.
Google cardboard is one of the most popular VR viewers because it’s very cheap compared to other, more advanced headsets. It has a lot of liabilities, however. It’s not very convenient to wear, requires an additional strap and if you use it often enough, at some point you will need to buy a new one. After all, it’s cardboard. A lot of companies, especially in China started producing their own version of popular viewers. With a little startup capital, you can buy those headsets wholesale and sell them retail via Amazon or at a retail location.
4. Build a VR community.
Create and host local meet-up events, conferences, lectures, fairs and other social events related to VR. Once you have a brand and a decent audience, you can sell access to advertisers and companies who make VR products — there are already a ton of them, and there will be more.
5. Create VR related content.
In VR, people are craving interesting content. As a startup, you can create a professional YouTube channel or blog reviewing the latest available technology, observing conferences, exhibitions, games and movies. Winning a sizeable audience can allow you to monetize it — and your influence — later.
Apple has often been accused of acting like it invented things that others have been doing for years. That complaint is not without merit, however Apple can lay claim to transforming existing things into mainstream successes, which takes no small amount of invention in its own right. Fingerprint authentication and contactless payments are just two recent examples, having both existed in Japan and on niche devices for over a decade before Apple raised them to global prominence with the iPhone.
Next up on Apple’s agenda is augmented reality, the act of superimposing digital data and visuals atop a live video feed of your surroundings — something that Google, Microsoft, and many others have been experimenting with for a long time. Apple is far from being able to claim it invented AR, but its new ARKit in iOS 11 is already showing signs to suggest that Apple will help bring AR into the mainstream faster and better than anyone else.
The chronic problem with augmented reality has always been one of practicality. You could have the most basic forms of AR on your regular phone, as provided by apps like Layar, which has been around since 2009, but those have never been particularly compelling. Or you could have more sophisticated and appealing augmentations, as presented by Google’s Tango project, but you’d need a big fat phablet to lug around to make them happen. Apple’s difference is to combine the convenience of your daily phone with the appeal of advanced AR.
Measure distances with your iPhone. Just because you can. Clever little #ARKit app by @BalestraPatrick ♂️ https://t.co/b2mXe2FS84 pic.twitter.com/pyoHp99Yts
— Made With ARKit (@madewithARKit) June 25, 2017
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.
Apple’s AR will immediately reach millions of people who already have the requisite hardware. And while it looks to be functionally as flexible and capable as Google’s Tango (check out some early examples of fanciful experiments with ARKit), its broader audience makes it much more enticing for serious developers to invest their time and money into. Google’s Tango is about the future whereas Apple’s ARKit is about the present.
BOOM And just like that we have #ARKit measurement app number 2 https://t.co/cjfQMpHmx0 → by @laanlabs pic.twitter.com/U8QKFjiMXs
— Made With ARKit (@madewithARKit) June 25, 2017
Considering how little time it took to develop two convincingly accurate AR measuring apps with the iOS 11 beta, and reading the comments from their makers, Apple also appears to have an advantage in the ease of development with ARKit. It’s exciting to think that there are still three months before the release of the next iPhone and the accompanying finalization of iOS 11, by which time Apple’s big-budget app developer partners are likely to have a deluge of AR-enabled apps for people to play with. That’s how stuff goes mainstream: as a big wave of change that touches everyone from casual Pokémon Go players to serious home DIY geeks figuring out how to arrange their living room furniture.
For the people who don’t care about incremental changes in phone specs or design, the differentiator between devices has always been in the unique things that each one can do — or, failing that, the convenience and ease of use of common features. Apple’s iPhone is more convenient than Google’s Project Tango devices and with iOS 11 it’ll have much better AR capabilities than its nearest premium Android rivals. So if we’re looking for the AR innovator that will take the technology into the mainstream, Apple once again looks like the likeliest suspect.
Apple may leverage augmented reality on the iPhone to help pave the way for a future smart glasses product, UBS said in a note to investors Tuesday.
Apple recently launched its ARKit developer tools, which will allow its partners to build new augmented reality applications for millions of iPhones already in the hands of consumers. It will give Apple an overnight leg up on companies like Google that are participating in the space on a much smaller scale.
Apple hasn’t participated in the smart glasses space yet, but the idea is that a user will be able to wear a special pair of glasses that overlays computer images over the real world. You might learn more about a restaurant, perhaps view its menu, by standing in front of it, for example.
Right now, companies like Apple and Google would be forced to create bulky glasses that wouldn’t be feasible or comfortable to wear. UBS believes Apple could use AR-ready iPhones to power the experience.
“Advanced sensors and camera capabilities will enhance the iPhone; eventually there could be independent hardware offerings, perhaps iGlass,” UBS analyst Steven Milunovich said. “We can imagine a pair of glasses with quintessential Apple design (iGlass), which enable a Hololens-type experience,” the company said, referring to Microsoft’s bulky alternative.
“However, the amount of compute power and sensors required likely pose a serious design challenge. If Apple could find a way to send massive amounts of data from the eyeglasses to the iPhone where the bulk of the compute would occur, the eyewear could have a more attractive design. The issue then becomes how to transfer massive amounts of complex data between devices quickly.”
Milunovich laid out 10 AR use cases ranging from games and entertainment to home improvement and health care/medical diagnostics. It said AR will help Apple retain iPhone users.