Twelve weeks ago, which feels like two years these days, Apple unveiled it’s much-anticipated new operating system, iOS 11, which supports Augmented Reality. Augmented Reality is defined as digital content laid over the physical world. The simplest expression is Snapchat filters or Pokemon Go. iOS 11 takes this to a new level.
Unfortunately, most of the new Apps, like ShARkit, pictured above, are, at best, delightful demoware. “Cute is fine for a minute or two but those apps that rely on cute will see massive churn. How long do you need to view a caterpillar or shark swimming around your room?” Robert Scoble, the author of The Fourth Transformation, asked on Facebook.
“I now get why Tim Cook didn’t feature augmented reality more on the launch of iPhone X,” said Scoble, articulating everyone’s frustration at finding a mixture of poorly tested games and diversions, not the next big thing, in the app store. At the same time, we can see where this is going; in the next version of the OS, digital sharks will be swimming under and around furniture.
When the new iOS became available last Thursday, the entire VR/AR new media community eagerly downloaded it, anticipating AR magic, only to come away deep in a personal “trough of disillusionment”. With few exceptions, AR apps currently available in the app store aren’t good and are buggy. To make matters worse, while iOS 11 will play new AR apps on our current iPhones, they drain the battery with lightning efficiency.
In the days leading to the launch of the highly anticipated, new, AR-enabled operating system, my colleagues and I in the tech press were inundated with press releases for new AR apps like “The Hungry Caterpillar”, pictured above. These were hastily re-written into breathless previews of apps the writers never tested and enhanced the air of disappointment that followed the release and voracious sampling of new AR apps. Complaints continue to flood social media.
“It is depressing just how bad most augmented reality apps on iOS11 are” said Scoble. “Many games lost me in the first minute because I can’t figure them out. On many apps interacting with augmented elements is difficult, at best. Things are hard to hit, hard to read, hard to figure out. Some apps like darts or basketball far less fun than they should be.”
Fortunately, all this is sound and fury, meaning nothing, because it takes more than twelve weeks to build compelling apps for the mass market. The largest and most important companies in the space, Snapchat, FB, Google and Apple itself, have not played their hands yet. Also, my iPhone 6s heats up and burns the battery out in less than an hour of AR play. This means the daily audience will be limited to people with iPhone 7 or better. “I’d guess that there could be a later update that expands ARKit for the new phones’ capabilities,” said App Developer Ontario Britton. “As soon as we have an IR depth sensor on the back of a phone, the frameworks will explode with possibilities. For one, you could place augmentations in a room that are occluded by nearer objects, like furniture.”
The new iPhone 8 available this fall is going to have more graphics processing power, which should make AR a lot better than what I’m experiencing on my two-year-old phone. It will run cooler, and the battery will last longer. It will have multiple, depth-sensing cameras, capable of facial recognition, and extreme localization, and other nifty upgrades like wireless charging.
One important revelation is what it feels like when the camera is the main interface. As the phones get more powerful, so will this feature. Start those arm exercises, because holding the phone up like this for even ten minutes is unnatural and uncomfortable. Good news for Mira, Lenovo and others coming forward with low-cost head mounted display solutions for iPhones. Yes, they look pretty silly. People will gawk and point at first, but you get to lower your arm!
You would think Apple would be working with a blue chip app provider like Snapchat to provide some muscle to the release of the new OS if only to avoid a snark attack from tech press and users. On the other hand, why would Snapchat or Instagram or Apple itself launch into a weak ecosystem with no real installed base? Moreover, the bigger players aren’t going to offer upgraded, untested AR apps in twelve weeks. That’s how long it takes to set up the first meeting. And, let’s not forget, Apple does love to force an upgrade. You know you want one. Even before your phone melts playing Disney’s Star Wars AR through your new Lenovo headset.
Something amazing is coming, but it’s not here yet. In fact, take a seat. It may take a while. Maybe more than 12 weeks.