People, I just installed the Ikea Place app on my iPad Pro, went into the kitchen, and saw the future: The lasagna my wife is making for dinner tonight. Ikea Place, on the other hand, isn’t the future. The newly released app works great in the present–the realization of augmented reality’s promise. Not as good as lasagna, but pretty damn cool.
A week ago, we realized that our 10-year-old had brought too many books in our recent move to Spain. His bedroom needed a bookshelf. “Let’s order some of those Ikea Eket modules to hang over his desk, they’ll give him a place for his books and mementos and save some space,” I said. “Would they really fit?” she asked. “Yes, of course!” I replied. “I don’t know,” she said. “It will,” I said. “I don’t believe you,” she said. “Seriously?” I said. “Seriously,” she said. “We should use that Ikea Place VR thingie to check it out,” I proposed. “I don’t know what you are talking about.” she replied. “Would you make us lasagna next week?” I asked. “Just order the damn bookshelf,” she said.
This seems like a fairly common situation while trying to decorate a home: People wondering whether a piece will fit (or not fit) in a particular room. You can take measurements and draw plans, but for most people it’s hard to actually imagine the volume of new furniture in relation to a space. And even for people who can picture it as clearly as a 10-layer lasagna oozing bolognese, ricotta sauce, and spinach, the ability to actually see furniture in real life–before they buy it–is still very useful. It answers the key question when choosing furniture: Would this match well with my environment?
That’s the premise of Ikea Place. The company claims that if there was ever a perfect use case for a technology like ARKit–the augmented reality technology and application interface that Apple is introducing in iOS 11–this is it. And they’re right. An app that allows you to see how furniture looks in your home before actually buying it seems like a natural and very useful fit for augmented reality. Using the app is simple: Just open it, point the camera of your iPhone 6S or iPad Pro/9.7-inch iPad (and above) at a room, and start dropping in furniture from the Ikea catalog. Once you’re ready, you can order and go.
The augmented reality interface is idiot-proof: Just pick your new Fürkansten bed, a colorful Knataøl desk, or a useful Sarlacc dresser (none of these are real Ikea products, but you thought they were) and drop them into the room using the touch screen. Done. Now you can walk around it, get close, get far, and inspect how it really fits into your space.
But for all the coolness of the live AR view, the application has design problems and a big bug. Browsing the catalog is really tedious, requiring you to scroll through seemingly infinite rows of tiles to find what you want. I’m not exaggerating: It took me almost a minute to scroll all the way down to the Eket bookshelf modules, which is absurd. There is no search, or even categories to navigate, just some highlighted collections and objects on the product selection screen. At the end, a blue button gets you into the never-ending stream of tiles. When I finally found the Eket modules, I discovered that you can’t place objects hanging on walls–but have to hack it using the desk as the floor. The big bug? Under low-lighting conditions the app gets confused: Sometimes the products are out of scale, appear floating over you, or drift on the floor as you move the camera, forcing you to rescan your room (this, however, seems like an ARKit problem).
The results don’t look as polished as I expected after watching Ikea’s Place app trailer, but it is functional. I would imagine that, at some point, a future version of the app will seamlessly integrate products that look truly indistinguishable from reality. The app would also be better if it recognized the depth of field in the scene, letting you place virtual elements behind real elements rather than overlaying them on top of everything the camera captures. Not only would the results be more realistic, but it would be very useful in tight spaces where other furniture comes between your camera lens and the virtual furniture. I suspect these features don’t depend on Ikea but Apple’s ARKit current capabilities.
My ARKit 2.0 wish list, the app’s deficient interface, and wall placement limitations aside, it works. At least, it works well enough to avoid having to kill your relationship at Ikea. Instead, now you can kill it in the comfort of your own home. Perhaps these Swedes will release an augmented reality furniture assembling assistant next, and we’ll be all set. And maybe include lasagna with every order.