When you used to think about what the future would hold, you might have imagined flying cars, or travel at light speed, or people living in space. Now that it’s actually the future, we’re only just getting close to self-driving cars, and we're many years off from any kind of space travel. But Apple is trying to up the futurism game by introducing augmented reality, a feature that, it was announced today, will come standard on all new iPhones. Many people are wondering how to use augmented reality, and if it’s actually going to live up to the hype. Chances are good, though, that even if you don’t want to shell out for a brand new iPhone X in order to take advantage of it, this feature is going to be pretty sweet.
Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, announced on stage that all new iPhones would be calibrated for augmented reality, or AR. The cameras on the newly announced iPhone 8 and iPhone X (pronounced “10”) will be able to accommodate low light and 60 frame per second video, increasing the possibilities for AR use. Apple also has updated the gyroscopes and accelerometers inside the new phones, which will improve motion tracking. Schiller said that this new functionality has a lot of possibilities for gaming, particularly with games that blend real life with virtual capabilities (Pokémon Go, anybody?). Augmented reality basically takes real-life images or video, and overlays it with computer-generated graphics that can interact with what's happening IRL. "It's like you're not just controlling the game — you're in the game," said Atli Mar, co-founder of Directive Games, who was brought out on stage to demonstrate the new feature.
As the existence of Pokémon Go illustrates, augmented reality isn't something that's brand new with this latest Apple update. The new technology announced today, however, will make augmented reality a much smoother experience for all iPhone users — remember how often Pokémon Go stalled and crashed? By optimizing cameras and internal technology for integration with augmented reality programs, Apple is betting big that augmented reality will be a major way we use mobile technology in the very near future.
To use augmented reality on the iPhone 8 or iPhone X, it's as simple as loading a game or other application with that capability. You then interact with the game or app as you would with any other, only a core function of the app will be walking around and looking at the world around you through your screen. You can use the graphic overlay to have the program interface with the IRL world, depending on what the app is designed to do.
In the tweet above, you can see augmented reality in use with an app called MeasureKit, which can accurately measure distances using the camera. Another app that's gotten attention for its AR capabilities, called Neon, will help you find your friends at a crowded festival using a combination of the image and GPS location services: simply point your phone at the crowd where you've lost your friend, and an arrow will pop up to show you where they (or their phone) is.
One past use of augmented reality was seen with Google Glass, which overlaid information like time and weather on top of the user's field of vision. However, Google Glass wasn't effective at scale because users found that it strained their eyes and didn't make tasks any easier than they would have been to do on their phones. By contrast, by integrating augmented reality functionality seamlessly in with tools and apps that we use every day, Apple is making it user-friendly to use augmented reality — and soon, we might not even remember a world where augmented reality wasn't a thing.