ARkit: The little revolution in the world of augmented reality

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For a few years now, augmented reality has become part of our daily lives. Masks on Snapchat or Messenger, IKEA catalogues or even the Pokemon GO! game are all applications using this technology and swarming on our smartphones. Two GAFAM giants, Apple and Google, are fighting an unsuspected battle to become the forerunners of a new way of displaying augmented reality in our daily lives.

The mini revolution started by Google

In 2014, Google announced its "TANGO" project. At the time, the American giant wanted to develop a new augmented reality platform for mobile devices. This project was developed around 3 technologies:

  • Motion tracking
  • Detecting space
  • Calculating distances

Tango laid the foundations for an improved augmented reality, dispensing with the eternal "markers" (visual cues printed on a sheet of paper), which until now had been necessary to display augmented reality. The whole thing worked thanks to specific sensors in the smartphone. The interest also lay in the possibility of visualising the interior and exterior of a full-scale 3D model in augmented reality, as the position of the device and the 3D model was tracked in space.

However, Google found itself in a bind. The technology relied on essential sensors that no smartphone had by default. The company had to find partnerships with manufacturers of mobile terminals to ensure the distribution of this technology. Lenovo and Asus positioned themselves and quickly released two models of compatible smartphones. However, the price of these devices and the lack of partners involved ultimately killed the project.

Apple regains the lead 

Noting Google's impressive advances in augmented reality, Apple quickly followed suit. Indeed, the Palo Alto firm quickly understood the potential of this type of platform, because unlike Google, Apple produces its own mobile media and has the largest fleet of smartphones in the world. It could therefore easily distribute this technology to the greatest number of people.

As early as 2015, Apple bought several companies related to augmented reality technology, including the famous Metaio, a German company that had already developed an augmented reality content development platform.

In June 2017, Apple officially presented its "ARKit" project during its keynote. Available from the 6s model, this new augmented reality platform will allow any developer to display a 3D model. Capable of detecting the user's position, depth or ambient light, 3D models are displayed in a fairly realistic manner and, above all, with complete stability. Moreover, ARKit does not require several on-board sensors, unlike TANGO, since it is primarily a software innovation.

Google responds and launches the TANGO suite

In the face of its failure with TANGO and Apple's show of strength, Google is re-launching the augmented reality adventure with the ARCore project. We find here the same technologies as in ARKit, i.e. motion tracking, space understanding and luminosity estimation.

At MWC 2018 (Mobile World Congress), Google is launching its version 1.0 of ARcore for developers. For the moment, only 13 mobile terminals are able to use ARCore, but Google's strategy is to make it available on all Android smartphones. This is obviously in response to the poor distribution of TANGO and Apple's strategy in this area.

 3d ARCore technology demonstration

The battle for augmented reality is just beginning

Both Apple and Google have therefore set their main objective: the massive diffusion of augmented reality with ARKit and ARCore respectively. The challenge now is not only to convince developers to use these platforms to create applications, but above all to ensure that they are massively distributed to the general public, and above all in a sustainable manner. For the time being, augmented reality is confined to social networks, but the long-term objective is to develop it in other sectors, such as sales or car windscreens.

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