Now that Apple’s ARKit augmented reality development toolkit has been out in the wild for a few weeks, thanks to the rollout of iOS 11, we’re beginning to see the first examples of what the platform is capable of.
The main question surrounding ARKit is how Apple intends to take advantage of its lead in the burgeoning AR space. With Google only beginning to lay the groundwork for its own Android augmented reality initiative, ARCore — the company only just formed a partnership with Samsung focused on challenging ARKit — Apple is in a unique position and the iPhone could become the go-to platform for mobile AR.
This coupled with the fact that ARKit apps are capable of running on nearly 500 million iOS devices dating back to the iPhone 6S and any iPad Pro, gives Apple a significant advantage in the space.
A number of Canadian developers are particularly keen on Apple’s technology and how it has the potential to revitalize mobile app development, as well as help their studios’ apps stand out in the increasingly crowded iOS App Store.
A sentiment that’s been echoed by nearly every developer is that it’s now easier than ever to add AR to pre-existing apps, in spite of the fact that augmented reality has existed for a number of years.
Below is a brief slice of some of the first Canadian-created apps to utilize Apple’s new augmented reality platform.
Kings of Pool
As you may have guessed from the title, this is a billiards mobile game. Chris Ye, the CEO of Uken Games, says that he was able to get an AR demo of Kings of Pool up and running in under a single day.
“Within about a week, we took that functional prototype we built within a day, which we shipped in time for iOS 11,” said Ye.
As far as early AR apps go, a top-down pool title is a perfect way to show off that the toolkit is capable of adding features to a pre-existing experience. Force Touch is utilized for actually hitting balls with the cue, leading to a tactile feel that’s rarely present in any game, let alone a mobile title. The experience feels solid overall, though the digital pool table does become unstable under less than ideal lighting conditions.
Unlike early ARKit prototypes, the experience of physically walking around Kings of Pool‘s augmented reality table is relatively seamless, with the game going so far as to allow players to view their hand through the table’s mesh. Ye also says that the table is adjustable — this is a feature many ARKit apps seem to be including — allowing both large and small spaces to be used to play the game.
Uken Games is a mobile-first Toronto-based studio consisting of 90 employees. Looking to the future, Ye says that Uken plans to add features to the augmented reality Kings of Pool mode that are currently only included the standard, non-AR version of game, like a multiplayer mode and scorekeeping.
Kings of Pool is available as a free download for both iPhone and iPad through the App Store.
As an example of one of the few Canadian-made ARKit apps that’s not a video game, Montréal-based developer Sensopia’s Magicplan app has the potential to be an impressively capable utility for contractors.
The app allows users to map out the dimensions of their homes by pointing their iPhone or iPad around a room’s physical space. Measurements are approximately 98 to 99 percent accurate, according to Andreas Bohm, the CEO of Sensopia.
While this claim is somewhat accurate, more complicated room layouts do result in measurement inaccuracies. Lighting also affects the consistency and structure of the blueprints that Magicplan creates, though ARKit has helped make the app much easier to use.
“It took me one minute or so, and I was able to create a complete room with a rather complex shape,” said Bohm, while showing off Magicplan’s scanning process during a recent Apple briefing.
Taking things a step further, Magicplan is also capable of furnishing homes with virtual AR furniture, and can even map out the amount of paint and tile boxes required to renovate a particular space. It’s important to point out that products are sourced from Amazon and prices are listed only in USD, making this feature not very useful in the Canadian market.
Sensopia also has offices in Germany, with additional development teams in the U.S. and France. Magicplan is available as a free download in the App Store for iPhone and iPad.
Thomas & Friends Minis
While not necessarily aimed at my particular demographic, Thomas & Friends AR mode adds an interesting perspective to the children’s mobile title.
According to Michael Elman, Montréal-based Budge Studios‘ CEO, Thomas & Friends was developed over a period of three months and launched at the same time as Apple’s ARKit platform.
“AR has been around for a long time. The way you had to use it was printing something out on your printer — parents had to do this — and placing something on the ground.. When Apple announced ARKit back in June, we were already in the middle of building a Thomas & Friends app,” Said Elman.
In just a few weeks, Elman says that his team had a working AR prototype up and running, similar to the other development studios interviewed for this story.
As one of the few early ARKit-developed apps with a focus on creating an experience designed for children, Thomas & Friends was prominently featured in the App Store’s ‘Today ‘ tab — a feature that was added to the digital retail platform when Apple launched an overhaul of the store alongside the release of iOS 11.
The app creates an augmented reality lens of either a pre-created track, or one made by the player, and then allows the user to interact with it in various ways. Similar to Kings of Pool, the Thomas & Friends app’s play space can also be altered to fit the amount of space available in a room, with the ability to shrink the set-up all the way down to the size of a living room coffee table.
Budge Studios employs a staff over over 100 people and has worked on children’s licensed titles set in the Garfield and My Little Pony universes. Moving forward, Elman says that it’s possible AR could come to the studio’s My Little Pony titles.
Thomas & Friends Minis is available as a free download in the App Store for iPhone and iPad.
Perhaps the most complete gaming experience that features Apple’s ARKit tech is Montréal-based Thunderbox Entertainment’s Tsuro.
The game features a simple premise: Each player places patterned tiles in succession on a play space, with the goal of ensuring those lines don’t lead off the table. The player that’s able to keep their ball on the board the longest, wins.
Dan Taylor, the founder and director of design at Thunderbox, says that since Tsuro added an AR ‘Tabletop Mode’ to the company’s game, there has been a significant uptick in interest and engagement.
Taylor says that his first experimentation with ARKit was done while waiting for a taxi in a hotel lobby. In less than an hour, he was able to get a prototype up and running. Within two weeks, the full AR mode was ready — and he says he has limited programming experience. The digital board game’s ARKit feature launched alongside iOS 11 in early September.
“Everyone who saw it [the early AR demo], without fail tried to reach out and touch the pieces. That’s when I realized that augmented reality was the perfect medium for creating the immersion we were trying to make. Two weeks later we had it fully integrated into the app,” said Taylor.
What makes Tsuro stand out from similar apps is the fact that its AR features don’t feel tacked on or rushed. In fact, the entire game, as well as local multiplayer and even online multiplayer, can be played in augmented reality mode, with seamless switching back to the standard game.
In total, Taylor says that Tsuro has been downloaded 1.4 million times worldwide and that it’s the number one board game app in 90 countries. Thunderbox plans to add AR features to its second boardgame mobile title, Roll For It, in the near future.
Tsuro is available for download for $3.99 CAD in the App Store for iPhone and iPad.