Here’s A Peek At The iPhone’s Next Big Trick

This fall, the iPhone will get a major software update–and with it, a slew of new augmented reality apps that are already appearing online.

We’ve all heard about the promise of augmented reality coming to the iPhone. With iOS 11 due later this year, Apple is releasing ARKit–a software that allows developers to create richer augmented reality apps that utilize the full potential of Apple’s hardware. And as Fast Company reported, that hardware may soon get a major upgrade thanks to 3D lasers.


But when Apple announced the feature, it was hard to know if it would amount to all that much. On the one hand, hundreds of millions of iOS devices–iPhones and iPads–could get a new wave of apps that put Pokémon Go to shame. On the other, Apple was starting out in fourth place. After all, Google has Project Tango. Microsoft has Hololens. Facebook has its own new platform for AR apps. And we’re not even counting what Snapchat and Instagram are doing.

However, it’s looking less and less like Apple has squandered any opportunities by being late. Apple’s iOS 11 isn’t out for consumers until this fall, but developers are already using its ARKit in anticipation of its launch to make some incredible things–and they’ve begun sharing some of their demos, showcasing what ARKit is capable of. Whether or not “augmented reality” sounds like something you’re interested in, these concepts tease a whole new wave of apps to come.

Real-World Minecraft

Matthew Hallberg ported bits of the popular, open world-building game Minecraft into ARKit. Not only does he drop miniature trees and rocks all over his kitchen–all of which can be chipped away with a pickaxe–he’s able to construct life-sized buildings out of Minecraft bricks.


The takeaway: We’re going to build so much virtual crap that cities are going to need virtual zoning restrictions.

Inter-dimensional Portals That You Can Actually Walk Through

In what is by far the trippiest use of ARKit, creatives at Nedd built a inter-dimensional portal. It’s essentially a door to another world. You can walk around it to peek inside. But in a powerful, interactive twist, after the user walks through the portal and ends up in a world of polygons, they can look back through the door and see the real world–tiny, and suddenly so far away.

Takeaway: The most breathtaking bits of AR may be immersive, yet have no learning curve.


SpaceX Rockets Landing In Pools

Most of us have never seen a SpaceX Rocket landing on anything but YouTube. But Tomás Garcia shows a rock landing right in a backyard pool. No doubt, educational experiences that bring virtual models into the physical world are a big potential use for augmented reality. This demo, however, is grandiose in its scope–even if it’s technically playing through a four-inch iPhone screen.

Takeaway: There’s really no limit to the scale of what ARKit can do–at least with proper visual trickery.


Painting In Midair

TiltBrush–a drawing app owned by Google–is one of virtual reality’s best experiences. But what if you could bring midair painting into the real world? In a small handful of amazing demos by LaanLabs called ARBrush, the company has done just that. Your phone is your brush. Paint whatever you like, wherever you like.

Takeaway: Virtual reality’s best ideas may be only better in AR.

Measuring, Like, Everything

Two other must-see demos by LaanLabs both revolve around the idea of measuring. AR Measure is a virtual tape measure that you can lay down on top of the real world. But perhaps more impressively, the company also used ARKit to successfully walk through and roughly map a two-story house. That’s the sort of magic that’s thus been pulled off by Google’s Project Tango, using special depth-sensing camera technology. Here, it’s working with a plain old iPhone.


Takeaway: Augmented reality will be as much a measurement tool as a platform for psychedelic video games.

From The TV Screen To Your Living Room Floor

Fast forward to about 20 seconds in here to watch two basketball players, who’d been previously recorded through what’s called volumetric video, play a pick-up game in the middle of a cafeteria. Now I want you to imagine that, instead of two no-name guys who played ball in front of a greenscreen, it’s a highlight reel from last night’s Warriors game–thanks to cameras of the future that could capture NBA players in full 3D. Silly to consider? Maybe. Better than an animated GIF on your Twitter feed? Definitely.

Takeaway: The human figure actually translates pretty well to AR–which means that virtual people are inbound.


Dogmented Reality

We all remember Tamagotchi, but they never had four legs, a penchant for drool, or the ability to run through your actual house. Sandcrawler Entertainment has been sharing shots of what looks to be a follow-up app to its Good Dogs! pet simulator that puts a 3D virtual dog into the real world. (In the case above, the dog happens to be playing poker with a bunch of others–but cuter, more Instagrammable moments seem possible, too.)

Takeaway: Prepare for everyone to be obsessed with whatever the more annoying version of the pet rock is.


As incredible as these demos are, however, it is important to remember that they’re all captured through the iPhone screen itself. And an iPhone screen is tiny when compared to our real world vision. Many of these demos simply won’t be as impressive when you need to squint your way through a smartphone to appreciate them, which is why so many people in the industry believe augmented reality glasses–like Microsoft’s Hololensare inevitable.

That may be true, but for the time being it seems as though there are enough impressive apps here for iOS 11 to take AR into mainstream–even if this technology isn’t covering our eyeballs 24/7. Yet. 


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach


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