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article imageOp-Ed: Apple's iPhone event was really about making AR mainstream

By James Walker     Sep 13, 2017 in Technology
Apple announced the iPhone X yesterday in a live event that ushered in several new features and devices. But if you thought the event was focused on hardware, you'd be mistaken. Apple was really setting the stage for the software platforms of the future.
At the heart of Apple's event from the Steve Jobs Theatre was augmented reality. It was the theme around which everything else orbited, a launching point for the announcements that kept being returned to. As executives unveiled new devices, they repeatedly emphasised how they're ideal for AR experiences.
Apple pivots to AR
Apple's no longer making any secret of its AR ambitions. It dedicated a large portion of the event to talking directly about the technology. It showed off several new demos covering gaming, sports, leisure and music. It also showed how AR will offer new social opportunities and power technologies like Face ID.
For Apple, augmented reality is the start of a new strategy. It will open opportunities for users, businesses and developers alike. The AR-focused iPhone X represents the creation of the first consumer-oriented, widely distributed augmented reality platform, arguably the point at which the technology goes mainstream. With the AR market expected to balloon to over $400 billion in the next three years, Apple's positioning itself to take full advantage of the boom.
iPhone X unveil at Apple s September 2017 Live Event
iPhone X unveil at Apple's September 2017 Live Event
Appealing to developers
Its ARKit platform, launching next week with iOS 11, will bring augmented reality to millions of iPhone users worldwide. Although the company's arriving later than rivals like Google, it will soon boast the largest AR install base around. Already, it's got a big selling point to get developers onboard.
There are other advantages too. Apple's hardware is cohesive and based on a single underlying chip architecture. This makes it much easier for app makers to tune performance. Developers targeting rival platforms like Android face a dizzying array of hardware configurations they can't ever hope to control. Optimising an AR app to run well across them all is an insurmountable challenge. Although it's not even launched yet, ARKit's benefits are already apparent.
Apple s animated AR-powered  Animoji  on iPhone X
Apple's animated AR-powered "Animoji" on iPhone X
AR apps
The number of AR apps available at launch will be relatively slim. However, Apple also made it clear that it's still exploring the possibilities of the technology. Nobody's yet sure what AR will achieve or which facets of technology it can most effectively transform. ARKit offers a general backbone to power AR apps but its implementation is down to the imagination of developers.
In the consumer space, augmented reality apps will first take the form of embedded social experiences and light-hearted games. The commercial applications of AR are also growing though.
The iPhone X.
The iPhone X.
© Apple, Inc.
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Car showrooms already use tablets to introduce customers to new vehicles. Soon, they could demonstrate different features using ARKit on an iPad. Retail's set to be one of the first industries to utilise AR tech, offering individualised experiences that aren't currently possible.
Wider industries are also exploring the concept. From energy through to farming, augmented reality has the potential to streamline processes and improve efficiency. Today, Britain's Royal Navy said it's evaluating AR for use on its future warships, demonstrating how the tech's already spreading. Apple's ARKit will amplify this effect by thrusting the tech into mass public awareness.
The Steve Jobs Theatre
The Steve Jobs Theatre
Mounting awareness
More significant for AR's broader future though is Apple's arrival in the field at all. Apple, Google and Microsoft are now all building augmented reality products, accompanied by ranks of eager startups with innovative ideas.
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Competition is growing as the race to AR starts in full force. Although none of the major players can claim they know where the finish line is, it’s clear AR's taking its first steps towards becoming a mainstream technology. Apple's attention to pointing out the suitability of its new devices shows AR's already changing the direction of the tech industry. The future will be augmented and defined by a new era in technology.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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