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Apple’s new AR platform looks a lot like a gateway to VR

(TECH NEWS) Apple unveiled their new augmented reality ARKit at the WWDC and it seems like a stepping stone on the way to virtual reality.

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arkit

From WWDC

Apple’s new augmented reality platform ARKit is pretty cool itself, but even cooler is what its launch implies: Apple has unleashed some truly cutting edge tech.

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That cutting edge tech, with a little more development, could open the door for virtual reality.

What’s ARKit?

ARKit lets app makers map digital objects into 3D space by drawing on detailed camera and sensor data. The platform does what Apple calls “world tracking”: it finds points in your surrounding environment, then tracks them while you move your phone.

Rather than building a 3D model of a given space, ARKit can pin objects to a certain point of reference so as to accurately adjust scale and perspective.

ARKit can locate flat surfaces, allowing users to set up digital props on tables, floors or chairs — something Wayfair has been doing for a while now. With ARKit, developers won’t have to build their own tracking and imaging systems since they’ll have access to the tracking capabilities of the iPhone and iPad.

Word on the street is that ARKit is a step in Apple’s plan to develop augmented reality glasses.

That’s all fine and good, but let’s dive a little deeper into what else could be unfolding.

Paving the way to virtual reality

So the phone can track someone walking around a virtual object. Now, what if you put that phone into a VR headset? One could assume this would allow a user to walk around in a virtual environment. It’s not far-fetched at all; Google’s all-in-one VR headset was wired around Tango technology. Here’s another curious thing: Apple is rumored to be switching to VR-friendly OLED screens. Hmm.

Could there be an iPhone-based headset in the near future?

Rumors have been swirling around the topic for years now. Although Apple CEO Tim Cook has openly stated his preference for AR over VR, this new platform could counter his own arguments. The way Cook sees it, “VR isn’t going to be that big compared to AR. How long will it take? AR is going take a little while, because there’s some really hard technology challenges there. But it will happen. It will happen in a big way. And we will wonder, when it does [happen], how we lived without it. Kind of how we wonder how we lived without our [smartphones] today.” Cook doubts VR’s success because he thinks people don’t want to be cut off from reality.

AR is different, he says, because it simply enhances the world we already live in.

Let’s use Cook’s smartphone analogy. Like the smartphone, as AR becomes more sophisticated, it will become the new normal. People will start wanting more. When we become accustomed to our flashy augmented details accessorizing our daily lives, virtual reality won’t seem like such a big leap.

Apple has also recently made several interesting hires, including several former Microsoft employees with backgrounds in 3D user interfaces and machine learning for human activity recognition.

We don’t know exactly what’s cooking, but it certainly smells like VR.

Now let’s step back and focus on what we know. Apple’s got a new augmented reality platform. But is ARKit any more out of this world than other big names in the AR space? Yes and no.

Not exactly an underdog

Google and Facebook have also been hard at work on their own augmented reality platforms, but Apple’s has several advantages.

First, ARKit will be available on a vast array of devices, as opposed to Google’s Tango, which requires special hardware to be built into each Android device.

As for Facebook’s AR platform, despite boasting some impressive machine learning and adorable cartoon characters, developers are confined to Facebook’s Camera app. Apple, on the other hand, will allow developers to play around with adding augmented reality to independent iOS apps. For this reason, Apple claims to have “the largest AR platform in the world.”

So what will it mean when developers can build AR-first apps?

Even the much hyped-about Pokemon Go only use AR as a fun little bonus feature, not its main selling point. Snapchat and Facebook added AR into their platforms, but the popularity of these features comes from both companies’ large user bases, not from AR itself.

With ARKit, augmented reality will be way more accessible since developers can put their apps in front of large audiences for cheap.

This could eventually mean AR features become integrated into everyday apps we already use, like video chats, games and maps — henceforth beginning the gradual transformation of what we view as normal.

ARKit sounds promising, but it’s not hands down the best of the best.

It can definitely benefit from some of its competitors’ features, such as extra cameras built to capture depth data and wide-angle images, which would give ARKit the ability to construct 3D models of entire rooms — something Tango can already do relatively easily.

Failing to launch

Virtual reality, despite many attempts from major tech companies, has yet to really compel consumers enough to take off in a big way. It’s a fascinating concept that just needs to be executed correctly.

If Apple can fine-tune various elements of the AR apps already out there and then transcend into virtual, we might finally have a VR platform with that “wow” factor we’ve been waiting for.

#ARKit

Helen Irias is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a degree in English Literature from University of California, Santa Barbara. She works in marketing in Silicon Valley and hopes to one day publish a comically self-deprecating memoir that people bring up at dinner parties to make themselves sound interesting.

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Tech News

Facebook deletes developer over ironic browser extension invention

(TECHNOLOGY) Think a muted week for a nipple shadow is bad? Facebook just permabanned this inventor for…helping others to use the platform less.

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African American hand holding iphone on Facebook's login page.

It must be true that corporations are people because Facebook is pulling some seriously petulant moves.

In a stunt that goes beyond 24hr bans for harmless hyperbole, and chopping away at organic reach (still bitter from my stint in social media management), Facebook straight up permanently banned one of their users for the high crime of…aiming to get people to use the platform a little less.

Developer Louis Barclay came up with Unfollow Everything, an extension that basically instantly deleted your feed without having you unfriend anyone or unlike anything. Rather than have users manually go through and opt out of seeing posts, they’d now opt IN to keeping who they wanted front and center.

In his own words on Slate: “I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.”

Since more time spent on Facebook means more ads that you’re exposed to, means more you spend, the add-on started slowly making headway. I myself pretend to be a ranch owner to keep ads as irrelevant to me as possible (though my new addiction to hoof trimming videos is all too real), and Unfollow Everything probably would have been a great find for me if it hadn’t been killed by a cease and desist.

Law firm Perkins Coie, representing the internet giant, let Barclay know in their notice that Unfollow Everything violated the site’s rules on automated collection of user content, and was muscling in on Facebook trademarked IP.

They also added, in what I can only assume was a grade-school narc voice, that the add-on was “encouraging others to break Facebook’s rules.”

Barclay, not having the resources to fight a company with the finances of a small country, promptly ceased and desisted. Practical.

Officially speaking, Facebook might have actually have some ground to stand on vis-à-vis its Terms Of Service. The letter and legal team may have been warranted, not that we’ll ever truly know, since who’s taking Facebook to court? But then they followed up with a ‘neener neener’ deletion of Barclay’s 15 year old account – which was still very much in use.

Look, Facebook is the only way I connect with some of my friends. I don’t take enough pictures to make full use of Instagram, I fully hate Twitter, my Tumblr is inundated with R-rated fanfiction, and any other social media platform I’m happy to admit I’m too haggish and calcified to learn to use. So a complete WIPE of everything there with no notice would be pretty devastating to me. I can only imagine how Barclay felt.

And in light of the fact that the browser extension wasn’t hurting anyone, taking money, or spewing hateful rhetoric, there’s really only one thing to say about Facebook’s actions…they’re petty.

Sure, they may have the legal right to do what they did. It’s just that when you notice every fifth post is an unvetted advertisement, their high ground starts to sink a little. I mean nothing says ‘We’re being totally responsible with user information’ like the number of add ons and user tactics popping up to avoid seeing the unnecessary. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Facebook put up a fight against losing ad traffic.

We all know all those stores with amazing deals aren’t actually going out of business, or even using their own photos right? Right?

Barclay added in his article, “Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.”

Agreed, Mr. Barclay.

Now I’m off to refresh my feed. Again.

 

Graffiti wall with image of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, with the saying "You've been Zucked."

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Tech News

Glowbom: Create a website, using just your voice

(TECH NEWS) Talk about futuristic! This app allows you to create quizzes, surveys, an online store, and even a website in minutes–without typing.

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Colleagues looking at Glowbom website homepage

In the past, we’ve discussed things like simplified coding and no-code app creation. Now, a San Francisco startup has taken the process a step further with no-type app creation.

Glowbom is a voice app that allows you to dictate steps to an AI – from adding information all the way to exporting code–in order to create a simple app, survey, or game. While the built-in options for now are limited to four simple categories, the power of the app itself is impressive: By asking the Glowbom AI to complete tasks, one is able to dictate an entire (if small) program.

It’s an impressive idea, and an even more impressive product. Glowbom founder and CEO Jacob Ilin showcases the power of Glowbom in a short demonstration video, and while he only uses it to create a simple survey, the entire process–up to and including the exportation of the API–is accomplished via voice commands.

Furthermore, Glowbom appears to process natural inputs–such as phrases like “Let’s get started”–in the context of an actual command rather than the colloquial disconnect one tends to expect in AI. This means that users won’t need to read a 700-page manual on phrases and buzzwords to use before jumping on board–something the Glowbom user base was probably hoping to avoid anyway.

As of now, the options one can use Glowbom to create include a quiz, a survey, an online store, and a website. It seems reasonable to expect that, as support for the app grows, those categories will expand to comprise a larger library.

Glowbom certainly opens a few doors for people looking to take their businesses or ideas from an offline medium into the digital marketplace. As coding becomes less centralized in computer language and more contingent on processes such as this, we can expect to see more products from folks who may have missed the coding boat.

Perhaps more importantly, Glowbom and products like it make coding more accessible to a wider base of disabled users, thus taking a notable step toward evening the playing field for a marginalized demographic. It’s not true equality, but it’s a start.

This story was first published here in October 2020.

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4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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