By most accounts, Apple’s new smartphone, the “iPhone 8,” is due out soon—in September 2017. But I feel confident in saying the company’s most groundbreaking release for the year actually happened earlier this summer, at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California.
At that event, Apple unveiled “ARKit,” a new, free set of software tools that anyone can use to build impressive new apps and experiences on the iPhone and iPad. The “AR” in “ARKit” refers to “augmented reality,” a technology that places interactive virtual objects and effects into your view of the real world, blending the virtual world with physical reality.
Today, this is usually accomplished by apps that use a smartphone’s (or other device’s) camera to show you a view of the real world in front of you, then layering virtual objects on top of it. For example, some of the most popularly used AR features right now are the “lenses” or face filters in Snapchat—the effects that put animal ears on your head or warp your face in weird ways. Another one is Pokémon Go, the gaming app that made the pocket monsters look as though they were bouncing around your desk or the street. What these apps have in common is that the virtual objects inside of them appear to be inhabiting or changing real-world scenes—“augmenting” our reality.
But those apps were custom-built by pro software developers. What makes Apple’s ARKit version of augmented reality so exciting is that it’s not an app—instead, it’s a free way for anybody to build new AR apps that will be able to run on many of Apple’s iOS devices from the last few years. And the proof is in the pudding: Apple’s ARKit has already only been publicly available for about two months, but already, independent software developers have created some…