These days, most of the news around Augmented Reality are about Apple and its new ARKit — a development tool to place digital objects into real scenery and display it on iPhones and iPads. Still in its beta version, ARKit has started a second wave of public awareness for AR after the most successful mobile game in history: Pokémon Go. With the consumer market now finally entering the AR world, it is little known that the enterprise sector has already been using the new technology for many years — often in stealth mode with prototypes and proof of concepts as internal apps. This is about to change completely.
In this article, I want to share some thoughts about how “consumer first” announcements like the ARKit influence the enterprise business. You may think that apps like Pokémon Go and all the examples developed by nerds around the globe with the ARKit don’t have anything to do with the business sector. The same applies to Snap’s Spectacles — AR glasses that look like hipster sunglasses — or Pokémon Go, another mobile game with some hype for AR. Believe it or not: you’ll see all of this repeated in some form or another in the enterprise sector.
I’m not talking about single use-case scenarios, I’m talking about how the tools from Apple as well as the AR activities from Facebook, Google and Snap inspire us to rethink the use of AR. These are the opportunities that make better enterprise applications and adapt the technology to the user — instead of educating the user to adapt to the technology.
ARKit brings Augmented Reality to millions of users and developers
Mapping our world with the smartphone camera and using tracking methods, like SLAM, to place virtual objects into real scenery — in a nutshell… this is exactly what the ARKit does. The more realistic the objects look, the better they merge with the real environment. Once our brain perceives the virtual content like physical objects we reach the full potential of an augmented or extended reality. Therefore the size of the objects has to fit to the environment and the objects have to react to different light conditions — just to mention two important factors.
One of Apple’s first applications on iOS is in development with IKEA. It allows IKEA app users place furniture and accessories straight out of the catalogue directly into your living room using Augmented Reality. Apple’s camera and software technology supports what I described before: it identifies the room size and light conditions to scale the furniture to the right size and texture. Imagine this for planning stores, supermarkets, hotels and real estate. This powerful software is giving almost anyone the possibility to create AR applications and will have a huge impact: from September on — with the release of iOS 11 — there will be millions of new AR users and developers building apps.
In the first step, we’ll see a bunch of different apps. Once the developers understand the way AR works and what the possibilities are, there will be more and more daily-use applications. It was the same with the first mobile apps — it took some time to reach the full potential. We will be able to create better and more natural user interfaces and get closer to the point where we use AR in daily business. Instead of simply placing furniture in our living room, we will be able to visualize operational knowledge in the real work environment. What would you say if I told you that there is no difference between Pokémon Go and a maintenance application for a technician? Both applications embed digital objects or information in the real world.
Fig.: Work instructions displayed on a machine (RE’FLEKT/Leybold) /
Pokémon placed in real environment (Pokémon Go)
More details about the enterprise solution shown in the picture: Leybold Smart Service Assistant.
Yes, for enterprise AR you will need more precise object recognition and model-based tracking, but sometimes simple is also better. Showing instructions, tasks and information on real products and parts is something we already do, but with the awareness through Apple’s ARKit and the fact that many people will get in touch with AR in private areas, they want to have it for their work. Another example you can compare with are smartphones. When I bought my first iPhone in 2007, at work we were still using Motorola or Nokia mobiles. I saw the potential of using the iPhone at work and tried everything to integrate it.
“Consumer First” will bring Augmented Reality to daily use
Another huge advantage for Apple as they have their own ecosystem that encourages users to integrate the latest Apple products. This is important to consider when looking at the enterprise sector. The industry always requires an integration of content tools that fit to their existing infrastructure and can re-use current data. New systems that don’t work with the old will simply never be considered. As mentioned at the beginning of the article: it’s not so much about single use cases, it’s about the impact of Apple & Co. on Enterprise AR with consumer releases and products. Here are the five reasons why I see the impact from Apple & Co. at a glance:
- Apple brings AR to millions of users on existing iPhones and iPads
- The new iPhone 8 will enable more AR functionalities with 3D sensors
- The ARKit enables millions of developers to create apps for iOS users
- AR will be affordable in terms of hardware and content creation
- Enterprises will understand the possibilities of AR through new apps
Today, we’re thinking about how we can use AR, in ten years we’ll find it difficult to imagine how we could ever lived without it — like with the iPhone. This is the real change that we see now with the ARKit. In the last five years I have seen the development of Augmented Reality with my work at RE’FLEKT and now with ARKit — and not to forget the Hololens — it is the first time that we can see the daily use of AR coming closer. Also Facebook, Google, Snap and other consumer tech will have a strong impact on the enterprise market. I will cover things like Facebook’s camera effects platform and Google Lens in separate posts.
If you want to know more about Apple’s ARKit, I can recommend Robert Scoble’s and Shel Israel’s “Apple AR World” pages.
This article has originally been posted on Medium.