From Consumer to Enterprise: Why Apple will change Augmented Reality

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:

  1. Apple brings AR to millions of users on exis­ting iPhones and iPads
  2. The new iPhone 8 will enable more AR func­tio­na­li­ties with 3D sensors
  3. The ARKit enables millions of deve­l­o­pers to create apps for iOS users
  4. AR will be afford­able in terms of hard­ware and content creation
  5. 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.

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