It has been a busy 2017 for augmented reality (AR). Often perceived as the lesser-known cousin to virtual reality (VR), AR is now stealing the spotlight. Over the past few months, there have been augmented reality developments from nearly all the leaders in tech. From Facebook’s announcements at its F8 developer conference to Apple’s rumored AR glasses, there is no doubt that the AR space is heating up.
However, with so many newsworthy happenings, it can be challenging to keep up with it all. To help you, here’s your quick guide to where the big AR players stand today.
On April 18 at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the Camera Effects Platform. This augmented reality platform allows developers to build AR effects for Facebook’s in-app camera. This platform makes AR more accessible and encourages developers to create new AR experiences.
Initially, the Camera Effect Platform will utilize standard effects, such as facemasks (think Snap lenses). But as it evolves, developers will be able to create more advanced capabilities using simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology, making even more immersive experiences.
The same day Facebook announced its Camera Effects Platform, Snap released World Lenses. World Lenses allow users to overlay digital objects in the real world through Snapchat’s in-app camera.
Snap is not new to the world of AR. Its face lenses and stickers are arguably the most popular examples of AR in action today.
World Lenses are significant because the release highlights advancements in AR and SLAM technology. Thanks to advanced computer vision technology, the in-app camera recognizes the environment. World Lenses interact and respond to the physical environment.
At the end of March, The New York Times reported that Amazon is considering using augmented reality to allow shoppers to see how couches and stoves will look in their homes before buying.
We’ve known for some time that Amazon has been exploring the use of AR. In 2015, the company briefly released an AR feature, allowing users to test televisions in AR. At the time, shoppers had to print a tracker and hang it on their wall to use the AR capability (see illustration above). This AR feature was available for only a short time and for a limited number of TV models.
The technology has advanced since that initial test, so we can imagine Amazon would be able to offer shoppers a smooth trackerless experience when it decides to release augmented commerce capabilities.
In the past few months, Apple has been granted several patents that signal its AR ambitions. A pair of patents granted in January describe a mobile AR system capable of detecting its surroundings and overlaying virtual information atop the environment. This has intensified rumors that Apple is working on delivering AR software to the iPhone.
Even more, Apple recently hired an AR expert from NASA and has been actively hiring other AR experts, reports Bloomberg. The latest buzz is that Apple is working on its own AR glasses that could be released as early as 2018.
Microsoft and Google
With all the recent happenings, we can’t forget about Microsoft and Google, which are already heavily invested in AR.
In 2016, Microsoft released a mixed reality headset, HoloLens. Today, Hololens is not available to consumers. It is sold only as a developer edition, as Microsoft courts developers to the platform.
In late 2016, Google announced the first device powered by Tango, its augmented reality computing platform. Tango’s technology lets devices detect the real-world environment, allowing for enhanced AR experiences. Although Tango is still available on only a handful of devices, top brands such as Restoration Hardware are betting big on the technology and developing Tango-compatible apps.