The update was announced today as part of iOS’ broader upcoming 11.3 release. Apple said ARKit version 1.5 will help developers “better integrate” AR experiences with the real world as the technology begins to gain traction. Although it didn’t say how many iPhone owners actually use ARKit, the company noted there are “hundreds of millions” of devices that support it.
The single biggest development in ARKit 1.5 is the addition of vertical plane support. ARKit has previously been limited by its reliance on horizontal planes, preventing developers from adding height to their experiences. With iOS 11.3, AR apps will be capable of recognising doors, windows and walls, expanding the kinds of interaction that can be achieved.
Vertical planes make it possible to create new kinds of augmented reality displays, including interactive posters, wall art and museum exhibits. It could also power games that explore all three dimensions. The Verge reports Apple briefly demonstrated an AR ball game at its campus, showing how virtual balls can now appear to bounce off real worlds.
Apple’s also improved ARKit’s baseline accuracy for recognising objects. The camera viewfinder now captures scenes with a 50 percent higher resolution, sharpening the experience and allowing finer positioning of objects. The camera’s more adept at identifying complex surfaces too, including irregular planes such as circular tables. This fine-tuning results in a more resilient AR experience that’s less demanding of its real-world environment.
“The introduction of ARKit with iOS 11 put augmented reality into the hands of hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users, making iOS the world’s biggest AR platform,” said Apple. “Apple continues to innovate on this exciting technology, bringing ARKit 1.5 to developers to provide even more immersive AR experiences that better integrate with the world and giving them the tools to power a new generation of AR apps.”
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ARKit’s main rival is Google’s ARCore for Android devices. ARCore currently supports upward and downward facing horizontal planes but still lacks vertical plane support. Apple now has an important advantage in this regard. The company’s tight control of the iOS ecosystem also means ARKit has a far greater reach than ARCore, which is limited to recent Android versions accessible to a tiny percentage of the overall userbase.
Apple will launch ARKit 1.5 in beta form with the open preview of iOS 11.3 later this week. The update is expected to reach general availability later this spring. It also includes more animoji, the ability to view medical records in Apple Health and the option to disable battery-related iPhone performance throttling.