Apple hasn’t officially announced an augmented reality headset or goggles, but the company’s lack of hardware hasn’t kept it from staying at the front of the pack when it comes to AR experiences. The iOS framework that enables these apps, ARKit, got an update announced today at Apple’s WWDC, and with it comes multi-person AR software. It’s a really interesting feature that opens up a ton of new possibilities for gaming, education software, and a number of other situations in which having a shared virtual environment might be useful.
To showcase the feature here at the San Jose Convention Center, the company set up a few of its elongated, trademark wooden tables (seemingly straight from an Apple Store) that acted as a barren surface for the AR environment to populate. The demo pit up to four people against one another on teams of two in a game called Swift Shot. Effectively, it was a competitive slingshot game that demanded players use an iOS device to aim and fire pellets at the enemy team’s base, with the goal of knocking off all three pillars for a victory.
The game really took advantage of the entire surface area of the table, filling the view of the iPad Pro 9.7-inch models we were using. It was also surprisingly fun. Like the best augmented and virtual reality games out there, it really got you on your feet and moving. You couldn’t simply stand still, aim, and fire with the iPad in one static position. You had to change your elevation, your angle, the depth and distance between you and the slingshot you were using. When one of your pillars gets knocked out by the enemy team, so too does one of your slingshots, meaning you have to rotate with your teammate to another one of the three available weapons.
Although Apple’s onstage LEGO demo of ARKit 2 will likely make more headlines, it’s really the competitive AR games like Swift Shot that have me excited about the future of the platform. You can imagine all sorts of cool apps that let any number of people collaborate or compete in the same virtual space with their own respective devices. Just like how social apps and experiences have become a cornerstone of VR, these same types of software will likely be a big driver of AR adoption in the future. Plus, for the time being, AR apps on iOS are a whole lot more comfortable and accessible than those requiring a headset.