Apple Embraces AR & VR, and What That Means

Apple laid out their short term plans for AR and VR technology today, including videogames, development and Star Wars.

Apple, Inc. has been slow to jump on the augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) bandwagons, letting their competitors test the water before diving in themselves. That changed today, as the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), San Jose, hosted several key announcements for the immersive technology industries.

First up came the reveal that Steam VR would soon support Mac format. This doesn’t mean that every VR title on Steam will automatically work with iOS devices, but giving developers the option to create videogames and experiences for the Mac format is certainly a step in the right direction. This was reinforced with the announcement of Metal 2, the company’s API for high performance graphics, which promises to deliver a VR-optimised display pipeline.

This new technology was then showcased by Epic Games, who used the VR Editor component of Unreal Engine 4 to demonstrate a real-time build using assets from Industrial Light and Magic (ILM)’s digital Star Wars library through the HTC Vive, using green screen mixed reality (MR) video. That one sentence had a huge amount of high profile names within it, and the showcase was as impressive as you would expect it to be. Lauren Ridge, Technical Writer at Epic Games, resized and positioned Tie Fighters and other craft, before playing out the scene she created. A choreographed sequence featuring the infamous Darth Vader drew huge applause from the audience.

Apple then revealed their VR compatible systems before moving on to AR. With an equally remarkable showcase – again utilising Unreal Engine 4 and big names from the film industry – a LEGO model that could be exploded, Pokemon GO with a Pikachu looking as if it was directly in contact with the ground and an impressively rendered wild west cyberpunk battle scene, the ARKit development suite features stabilisation in motion-tracking, ambient lighting estimation and support for Unity, Unreal Engine, amongst other features.

While the company stopped short of revealing the AR head-mounted display (HMD) many had been expecting, the development tools presented with certainly have application beyond iPads and iPhones. A showcase it was; now it’s up to developers to take the technology further.

Ultimately, Apple coming late to the game is nothing new. What it does mean however, is that AR and VR will get a publicity injection and brand new opportunities to grow its audience. This is perhaps more important than the hardware line-up supporting VR or the graphical prowess of the AR presentation: it’s about the experiences you can have with the technology opposed to the technology itself, after all.

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