Apple iOS 11 ushers in augmented reality to millions of iPhones

Of the myriad new features presented in Apple’s new iOS 11 mobile operating system, none has the revolutionary potential as much as compatibility for a new generation of augmented reality apps.

With iOS 11’s first public version released Tuesday, a new cohort of augmented reality apps — which allows computer-generated images or videos to be layered on top of a user’s real-world view — are now made available on the App Store.

Users of iPhone and iPads will be able to overlay three-dimensional furniture models into bedrooms, replay past bicycle rides on the mountains on top of the coffee table and visualize glucose range graphs to better monitor diabetes starting today via ARKit. Previous models up to iPhone 6S and first-generation iPad Pro are compatible with ARKit.

AR developers, market analysts and Apple CEO Tim Cook believe the technology will ultimately redefine the relationship between consumers and their smartphone.

“This is a day to remember,” said Cook in a “Good Morning America” television interview Tuesday morning. “We want everybody to be able to use AR, and so we’ve taken the complexity that developers would normally have to do in their apps, and made it simple for them to convert all of their apps to an AR experience.”

Shopping giants such as Ikea and Wayfair have worked on ARKit apps to bring their products virtually into their customers’ homes. On Ikea’s AR app called Place, users can overlay more than 2,000 Ikea furniture pieces into their rooms and check for fit. Ikea Place touts a 98 percent accuracy rate in its ability to automatically scale furniture models into rooms.

After Apple first announced it in June at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Ikea Place’s development team of 70 engineers worked day and night for two-and-a-half months to have it launch-ready Tuesday, according to Michael Valsgaard, who led Ikea Place’s development team.

“We get people who postpone buying a new furniture because they don’t feel confident in how it fits,” said Valsgaard. “AR that is so easy and accessible is going to change how you shop.”

Similar-minded shopping AR apps are now available, ranging from overlaying models of cars into a garage to see if they fit to trying on virtual makeup.

While Ikea Place was created by dozens of developers, other ARKit apps were built by one or two engineers as a passion project.

AR developers Adam Debreczeni and Eric Florenzano built Fitness AR, which builds three-dimensional terrains to visualize bicycle rides, runs or hikes. Using an open-source mapping platform called Mapbox and ARKit, they use data collected from the fitness GPS app Strava.

Fitness AR came about after Debreczeni built a three-dimensional recap of his bicycle ride through the Marin Headlands and posted the model on Twitter. Uploaded days after ARKit was introduced, Debreczeni’s post went viral, with more than 3,000 retweets, and sparked the idea for Fitness AR.


“It’s very easy to build experimental models and put them out,” said Debreczeni. “Building an actual consumer app, though, you have to worry so much more. AR is so new you are breaking ground with every line of code you write. We had to blaze the trail.”

While virtual reality, which creates a reality of its own in an enclosed environment, has been around much longer than AR, some — like Florenzano — believe augmented reality has more potential to revolutionize how technology seamlessly weaves into real life.

While he believes ARKit apps will go through hiccups and take years to reach mainstream popularity, Florenzano shared Cook’s belief that Tuesday has a shot at becoming a momentous day in Apple and Silicon Valley history.

“This launch will go down as the first day of virtual computing on a mass level,” said Florenzano. “In five years, we are going to really hit our stride. The data, the infrastructure and the users will all be ready then.”

Photo: Ikea Place app will allow users to overlay furniture models inside their homes, using Apple’s ARKit technology. (Courtesy Ikea)


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