Presented by Mapbox

With the anticipated launch of iOS 11 and new Apple devices this week, excitement is building in the developer community. The latest version of iOS is opening up new possibilities for augmented reality (AR) to be integrated into games, business, education, and consumer apps through their ARKit framework. With an estimated 200 million AR-capable iOS devices expected to be in the market by the end of 2017, this marks a major opportunity for developers to create new experiences and expand exposure.

New era of experiences

With ARKit, Apple accelerates AR with an interesting developer toolkit and significant audience. Combining ARKit with real-world location, new apps will allow users to record a bike ride and project the map of their route on their coffee table, plan a vacation over dinner and view a preview on a Lonely Planet app or have the Big Sur coast hovering in front of them as they browse different camp sites.

Or, while at work and appraising a property for flood insurance, employees could just tilt up their phones and see the flood plain in front of them, and which parts of the property are susceptible to flooding. Or geography teachers could project the evolution of Pangea in 3D for students to visualize instead of being limited by 2D images in textbooks. The display capabilities of larger screen devices such as an iPad Pro certainly suggests business and educational applications taking an early lead.

Breaking it down

ARKit is a framework for developers to build augmented reality experiences. It uses Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) to combine camera sensor data with motion data, allowing any recent iPhone or iPad to sense how it moves within a space with a high degree of accuracy.

The software is specifically designed for the sensors and chipsets in iPhones and iPads, allowing the lens to blend digital objects and information with the real-world environment around you. This is not trivial; prior to this, AR devices have required special camera and motion sensors found only in expensive and specialized devices. These experiences “seem real” but are only viewable through the device screen. They are visible wherever the viewer chooses, unless they are “anchored” to a specific location (more about that later and why that matters).

Massive developer opportunities

By introducing ARKit standard on iPhones and iPads, Apple has made AR technology accessible to the mainstream. As a result, this mobile AR software has the potential to reach 4 times the number of users with dedicated mobile AR hardware.

Today there are roughly 117M devices that are AR compatible — this number will grow by 66 percent to almost 200M by the end of the year. This means that AR will no longer require special hardware as it has in the past; suddenly there is a huge market for AR-enabled applications.

Now maps and real world games can go beyond a 2D screen, freeing developers to build apps that allow users to experience the world in entirely new ways.

Game changer for developers

With iOS 11 and ARKit, AR will become an inherently mobile experience where location context is critical. In a multitude of application use cases, understanding where you are and what is around you will become even more important.

For businesses, it may become more meaningful to know the purpose of a building and what you can convey to the client through an AR experience. This will fundamentally change how we think about and view digital maps, and bring mapping and location out of their traditional boxes into the real world, while providing AR experiences that blend the web world of projection with practical, physical applications.

While early demos of what’s possible with ARKit have been mind blowing, they only begin to scratch the surface of what is possible. When you combine the capabilities of ARKit with Mapbox location, you can go from a demo that lives on a coffee table, to a full AR experience that visualizes information about your surroundings and lets you interact with the world.

AR experiences in the real-world and why you should care

Anchoring AR characters and animations into real-world locations makes it possible to unlock rich, engaging experiences and create new business models. For example, a walking tour of Boston might enable you to follow an avatar of Paul Revere to the old North Church, or watch virtual protesters throwing tea into the Boston Harbor. An avatar of an online realtor could now show you a new neighborhood, open house or tour a new, yet unconstructed apartment complex. A fantasy game in the style of a Pokémon GO could anchor fantasy characters such as this dragon in an everyday location, such as a local park, and could be customizable for your child’s birthday party.

Showing location data in an AR

With the new Mapbox ARKit iOS Library you can add location, points of interests, or custom data to an AR experience, just like you would add markers on a normal map. Add or remove any location by simply using GPS coordinates and it automatically matches to the right location in your AR experience.

Mapbox gives you easy access to information about streets, building footprints and heights, land use, parks, water, and many other layers of data that describe the world around you. Developers can bring any data that you see in standard map into their ARKit experience or use it to design a new world. Given the sheer volume of open data available with Mapbox, the possibilities are endless.

Brave new world

This is an exciting time for creative developers and for companies looking to understand what AR can do for their businesses. ARKit and the ability to connect to real world locations through Mapbox SDKs and libraries, can help you unlock new business models and immediate addressable market opportunities. With the immediate scale enabled by these developments and available tools, there is no doubt we will see some very exciting creations. If you are a developer — what will you build? If you are business owner — what might your developer be able to create for you?

Learn more about what you can do with AR and location data here.

If you’re developing AR applications check out our new Mapbox iOS + ARKit library. Show off your AR creations by tweeting @mapbox with the tag #BuiltWithMapbox.

Paul Veugen is VP Mobile for Mapbox.

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