Apple’s equipping its tech for a whole new dimension, but it’s not just the latest devices. Find out everything you need to know about Apple AR and what it could mean for your iPhone…

What springs to mind when we say augmented reality (AR)? Catching Pokémon perhaps? Microsoft’s HoloLens? From now on, it could be IKEA…

The Swedish furniture giant is one of the first to get onboard with Apple’s new ARKit platform, with a very cool app that lets you preview 3D furniture at scale in your home. But they won’t be the last to toy with the tech, as Apple opens AR up to the masses.

Announced at the Apple developers’ conference back in June, Apple’s ARKit allows app makers to draw on detailed camera and sensor data to map digital objects into 3D space. It uses a technique called visual-inertial odometry, and is one of the most hotly anticipated features of iOS 11. But before we delve too deeply into what the tech could bring, let’s get back to basics…

What exactly is AR?

Short for augmented reality, AR displays digital objects on top of a user’s existing physical environment. Unlike virtual reality (VR), which completely immerses the user in a digitized world, AR doesn’t require a full headset or a tolerance for motion sickness. The camera and screen of your phone suffice, as AR adds objects and info are added to your surroundings, rather than replacing those surroundings altogether.

How does Apple AR change the game?

Apple’s entry into the AR space with its ARKit for developers comes as no surprise. CEO Tim Cook previously said AR use will one day be as common “as eating three meals a day” and it won’t be long before we wonder how we ever lived without it.

These may sound like grand statements. Google, Microsoft and Facebook all have competing AR developer platforms – AR is nothing new. However, with hundreds of millions of iOS devices already out there in people’s pockets, the release of iOS 11 automatically ensures Apple’s ARKit is the largest AR platform in the world. Without the need for anything other than an iPad or iPhone, ARKit removes a major barrier to entry for users to try AR. And, because it is the largest platform, it offers developers immediate scale and incentive to invest in creating AR applications, or integrating AR into existing iOS apps.

But how does ARKit work?

According to the tech giant itself, ARKit’s visual-inertial odometry process (referenced earlier) combines information from an iOS device’s motion sensing hardware with computer analysis of the scene visible to its cameras. It detects flat surfaces known as planes, like your floor or a tabletop, and reports their position and sizes. It also picks up on other notable features in an image, tracks differences in the positions of these features across video frames, and compares that information with motion sensing data. This enables it to build a high-precision model of your device’s position and motion, so you can do handy AR things like see a virtual burger on your plate before you order.

Do I need the latest iPhone?

Short answer, no. ARKit supports development for iPhones as old as iPhone 6s so long as they’re running iOS 11. But, as you might have guessed, the new range is where AR apps will truly shine – particularly iPhone X.

iPhone X is equipped with a new camera and processor specifically calibrated for AR video games and other more-practical uses such as measuring digital objects in physical spaces. These features are paired with a gyroscope and accelerometer that, Apple says, will make tracking the phone’s position even more accurate for more immersive experiences.

Are there any limitations?

While AR doesn’t require as much processing power as VR, it is still fairly processor-intensive. Any apps that employ the tech are likely to drain your battery more quickly than non-AR apps. It’s also not designed for rapid motion at this point, so you may need to slow down a little bit to let technology catch up. However, as we all know, tech is constantly evolving.

Will AR be as revolutionary as the smartphone itself? We’ll have to wait and see as developers push the potential of the platform and find out what works best. However, if initial applications are anything to go by, there are exciting times ahead. With more and more AR apps gearing up to hit the iOS store, it’s about to get unreal.

Make the most of new AR apps with iPhone 8 and 8 Plus now available from Vodafone UK, or register your interest in iPhone X, due for release this November.

Discover what iOS 11 has to offer… Take a quick tour of all the best new features, tricks and hacks that come with Apple’s latest iPhone operating system.

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