September 19, 2020
Apple's AR plans are coming into focus

Apple’s AR plans are coming into focus


apple-iphone-logo-2

Angela Lang/CNET

This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

When Apple sent invitations to the press and public to watch its “special Apple Event from Apple Park” on Sept. 15 through apple.com, the company included an artistic rendering of its logo, along with two words: “Time Flies.” Most people interpreted that to mean a next-generation Apple Watch, but there was an augmented reality surprise that hints at much more. 

If you tapped on the Apple logo, it would turn on your phone’s camera and start showing the artsy image on your desk, or underneath a tree, or next to your cat — anywhere you happened to be pointing your phone. It was like 2016’s popular Pokemon Go, but for even nerdier nerds.

The AR tech that powers Apple’s cute trick isn’t new. In fact, augmented reality is one of the buzziest buzzwords in the tech industry, with AR being seen as a key technology of the future. It isn’t just tech companies like Google and Facebook that are excited either. AR’s been making appearances in sci-fi for decades, including on the TV shows Star Trek: Discovery and Picard (both produced by CNET owner CBS). 


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The world of AR hardware is largely led by Microsoft’s $3,500 HoloLens headset, which looks like an oversized pair of glasses. But put them on, and they overlay computer images onto the real world, like magic. Very expensive magic. Which is probably why the tech is mostly being used in hospitals, on oil fields and in manufacturing plants. Magic Leap, one of the best-funded private tech companies ever, at more than $3 billion since its founding in 2011, has largely lost its shine after its Magic Leap One proved a bit lackluster.

But AR in software is more prevalent, found everywhere from Pokemon Go to the Ikea app, which can superimpose digital versions of Poäng chairs and Billy bookcases all over your living room, thanks to your smartphone’s camera. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok all have AR tech built in too, creating “filters” for changing people’s faces or adding new backgrounds.

Apple has talked up a big game about AR over the last few years too, and it’s expected to announce a headset that performs a similar type of trick in the next year, people familiar with the company’s thinking have told CNET. The headset, which is expected to be wireless and include other computer-imaging tricks, could be Apple’s next big thing.

While we wait for the iPhone maker to bestow yet another of its magical devices upon us, the invite’s trick has a lot of people wondering what Apple is going to talk about on Tuesday. 

Here are some ideas.

AR in iPads

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A 3D room scan from Occipital’s Canvas app, enabled by depth-sensing lidar on the 2020 iPad Pro. Imagine this on iPhones next.


Occipital

This is the most likely answer. Apple’s been adding AR technology to its devices for years. Its ARKit software-development tools help companies identify where a phone is looking in a room so that they can overlay all sorts of stuff on the real world.

One of the most useful examples is Ikea’s furniture placement app, which feels magical when you first try it out. There’s also the demo that one developer made, of using an iPhone to re-create A-ha’s famous ’80s music video for the song Take On Me

Earlier this year Apple added new sensors to its iPads to make that all work even better. So maybe they’ll be added to the rumored new iPad Air units Apple is expected to announce too.

Regardless, expect Apple to boast how its latest devices add to it being “the world’s largest AR platform.”

AR education

google-search-dinosaurs-jurassic

Google has already begun creating AR apps, like these life-size dinosaurs that you can see in the real world through your phone.


Google

Apple has always been interested in the education world. The first computer I ever used was an Apple computer in my school. And a lot of kids are using iPads in their schools now.

CNET Editor at Large Scott Stein said that if Apple does include the new AR sensors in the iPads, it may be as part of its pitch to schools. “What could be interesting to watch for is AR based classroom or educational software to use in remote learning,” Stein told me. “Google has pushed for similar initiatives in AR for years, and Apple still needs to find ways for AR to reach everyday people easily and helpfully.”

AR Apple Watches

I have no idea why you’d do this, but Apple could be adding AR technology to its Apple Watches. So you can scan a room with your wrist, maybe? The Apple Watch already makes and receives calls, plays music and controls my front door, which is more than comics hero Dick Tracy was ever able to do with his techy watch

AR Apple TV Plus shows

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Jason Mamoa in Apple’s See.


Apple

Apple went with star power last year when it released its sci-fi TV series See for its new $4.99 per month Apple TV Plus video subscription service. The show, about a postapocalyptic world filled with blind people, stars Jason Momoa — yeah, the guy known as the shirtless Dothraki leader Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the mostly shirtless Aquaman in Warner Bros. Justice League movie.

Now, what if you could have a shirtless Momoa in your living room?

Apple has apparently been working on content for your iPhone or iPad that’s inspired by Apple TV Plus shows. We don’t know what, so don’t get The Weather Girls’ It’s Raining Men queued up just yet. Bloomberg, which earlier reported on the move, suggested something more tame, like lunar rovers from the alternate-history space epic For All Mankind

AR iPhones

Though Apple’s Sept. 15 event is likely going to be about iPads and Apple Watches, that doesn’t mean the tech giant can’t pull of a sudden surprise. Maybe while looking through the iPad’s new AR functions, Apple shows us the new iPhone — voila, it was there all the time! 



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