AR Apps Are Taking Off Thanks to Apple

April 13, 2018 - 5 minutes read

2018 is a huge year for augmented reality (AR); Magic Leap promised to release its first AR goggles this year and both Apple and Google’s AR development kits are seeing growing interest after release last year. The AR market is hardly a small commodity for the future of tech; it is expected to grow from $3.3 billion to $133.8 billion from 2015 to 2021, according to research firm Zion Market Research.

The growth will come from AR-based mobile apps, headsets, glasses and contact lenses, and other customized AR devices. Apple’s hand in this growth will be large: it’s acquired a few AR and VR firms, recently filed a patent for an iPhone-compatible AR headset, set up a secretive AR/VR team, and brought on Virginia Tech professor and VR expert Doug Bowman.

Establishing Itself as the AR Authority

Apple’s certainly created a big market share for its iPhones; these phones will serve as a segue to introduce customers to AR with computer vision chips and depth-sensing cameras. The iPhone X’s Animoji feature is packed with AR and face-tracking, a great example of Apple’s AR prowess.

Apps using the tech giant’s ARKit were installed over 13 million times since iOS 11’s release in September 2017. That’s a huge improvement over the 3 million installs reported in October. So far, 47% of downloaded AR apps on the app store have been games, but that’s up from 35% in October.

After games, utilities and entertainment make up the second- and third-largest categories to be downloaded, respectively. Lifestyle AR apps are still blooming, accounting for 11% of downloaded apps since September.

Other applications downloaded include AR measuring tapes, children’s books, furniture placement apps, and photo and video apps. There are only a little over 2,000 AR apps in the app store, which represents only 0.1% of all apps in the app store.

Leaving Competition in the Lurch

Apple’s ARKit faces steep competition with Google’s ARCore and Seattle-based Microsoft’s Hololens, but that hasn’t stopped the company from making strides.

ARKit is an API-enabled software development kit (SDK) that speeds up development in building AR apps. The SDK allows developers to create a connection to the device’s camera, CPU, GPU, and motion sensors. Apple’s very proud of ARKit, claiming it delivers¬†“breakthrough performance that enables fast scene understanding” and which helps developers “build detailed and compelling virtual content on top of real-world scenes.”

The cool thing about the ARKit is that it works out-of-the-box with Apple’s Core ML framework to accelerate development and testing. ARKit also comes with a near-field communication (NFC) framework that allows developers limited access to the phone’s NFC chip to improve interactions with nearby sensors.

Apple keeps updating the ARKit offering, adding wall detection and better computer vision in its latest update. This allows the phone to “see” and lets users place things on walls. Google’s Play Store only offers about 60 ARCore apps, which is drastically less than Apple’s 0.1%, making Apple the running leader in AR mobile experiences.

Pivot, or Get Left Behind

Apple’s not going to start seeing substantial profit from its offering of AR-enabled apps just yet. But in tech, it’s more important sometimes to establish yourself as an industry leader, rather than making a profit right off the bat.

Industry experts are expecting Apple to eventually launch an iPhone-compatible AR headset, but it’s unclear when exactly Apple is going to create and release the headset.

As AR-compatible phones start experiencing increased market share, so will AR apps and AR experiences. And Apple is at the front of the race by far right now, which CEO Tim Cook is really excited about. He says Apple’s future in AR is “big and profound.” We can’t help but agree.

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