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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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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.

Tech News

Time is money and Clockify helps you make the most

(TECH NEWS) Tracking your time worked as a freelancer can easily be lost in the shuffle. A new tool has been designed to make this important aspect easier.

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After years of searching for a method that works for me in terms of organization and productivity, the answer seemed to be simple: a calendar I can write on and Post-It notes. This method is a little old school, but seems to get the job done for my organizational needs.

However, there are some things that slip through the cracks with this method, but it’s more user error than it is the actual practice. One thing I struggle with is keeping track of my freelance hours this way.

I have a tendency to guesstimate how much time I worked throughout the day and know that I wind up underdocumenting my hours. I would hate to know how much money I’ve missed out on keeping (sometimes inaccurate) handwritten notes.

But, like many other small scale issues, there is a simple solution. And that is found in the form of time trackers.

One of the newest members to join the online time tracker team is Clockify, who operates under the idea of “your time, your rules.” It is a free time tracking tool designed for agencies and freelancers.

Clockify allows users to manage as many team members, projects, and workspaces that you need in an effort to help your business run smoothly. This allows for a complete overview of team productivity.

The tool offers a way to enter time manually as well as clock time automatically. This way you can keep tabs on what you’re working on and assign and label time logs to the appropriate clients.

With this time tracking, you are able to generate weekly, monthly, and annual reports at any given time. These reports can be saved, exported, and shared with clients to give them more information about your work process.

The real-time tracking helps to improve business efficiency and gives more insight into what each team member is spending their time on. Having this information available can give visual representation of how to improve in the future.

Clockify currently exists in desktop format with iOS and Android apps coming soon.

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Tech News

Russia vetoed cryptocurrency and came back with CryptoRuble

(TECH NEWS) Russia put a hard pass on other cryptocurrencies in their country so that they could hop in the crypto-game with their own CryptoRuble.

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Just days after The American Genius reported that the Russian Central Bank would attempt to block access to cryptocurrency trading cites, the Coin Telegraph has reported that the Russian government will issue its very own cryptocurrency, the CryptoRuble.

The report cited local Russian papers, who quoted the minister of communications, Nikolay Nikiforov.

Earlier this week, head of the Central Bank, Sergei Shvetsov, said that he would work with the Prosecutor General’s Office to ban Russian citizens from accessing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, calling such currencies a “negative phenomena for our markets” and a “pyramid scheme.”

Now it appears that the Kremlin will create its own cryptocurrency – one it can keep an eye on — which, some might argue, defeats the entire purpose of cryptocurrency.

However, like other cryptocurrencies the CryptoRuble will be based on blockchain and will presumably help prevent online fraud.

CryptoRubles will be exchangeable with regular Rubles, although the systems of exchange have not yet been set up. Experts think that Russia is hoping to stimulate e-commerce without the need for foreign money markets, which will allow them to have more independence from the United States.

According to Nikiforov, the Russian government is setting up its own cryptocurrency under the assumption that if they don’t, other European governments will.

Said NIkiforov, “I confidently declare that we run CryptoRuble for one simple reason: if we do not, then after two months our neighbors in the EurAsEC will.”

Traders using CryptoRubles will be asked to provide documentation of retail transactions and services rendered – or pay a 13 percent tax for undocumented transactions, leaving a wide loophole for money laundering.

Critics say that Russia is trying to facilitate, while also profiting from money laundering; that the Kremlin is stealing the market from other cryptocurrencies; and that the CryptoRuble fundamentally defies the spirit of decentralization that inspired other cryptocurrencies.

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Microsoft’s overseas email storage piqued the Supreme Court’s interest

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft has been in a pretty large dispute about storing user emails abroad and the Supreme Court has taken an interest in it.

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The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a case that will decide whether or not U.S. law enforcement officials can force tech companies to turn over emails and data stored in overseas servers.

The case will review a lower court decision made in 2013 after federal officials attempted to obtain emails from Microsoft that would provide evidence for drug trafficking cases.

At that time, Microsoft refused to comply with the government, even though they had a warrant, instead taking the case to court, claiming that the U.S. government did not have the right to access data stored in servers in Ireland.

The court of appeals ruled in favor of Microsoft, citing a 1986 digital privacy law that allows law enforcement to obtain warrants for electronic communications, but not if the data is stored outside of the United States.

Judge Susan Carney said of the law, “Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the statue envision the application of its warrant provisions overseas.”

The Trump Administration and the Justice Department say that this ruling has majorly blocked efforts to prosecute criminals.

“Under this opinion, hundreds if not thousands of investigations of crimes — ranging from terrorism, to child pornography, to fraud — are being or will be hampered by the government’s inability to obtain electronic evidence,” said Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall.

Because Microsoft stores data and communications closest to the user’s location, Wall said that the lower court’s decision made it all too easy for terrorists and other criminals to hide their communications by claiming to live in a foreign country when signing up for an account.

Microsoft argues that, instead of handing this decision over to the Supreme Court, legislators should update the 1986 law.

“The current laws were written for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud.” wrote Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in a blog.

“We believe that rather than arguing over an old law in court, it is time for Congress to act by passing new legislation.”

In Congress, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) are pushing for just such an update with a piece of legislation called the Stored Communications Act.

Microsoft further argued that allowing U.S. law enforcement to obtain data from other countries was an “incursion” on those nations’ sovereignty, which would make U.S. citizens more vulnerable to foreign governments.

“If U.S. law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what’s to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?” said Smith.

The Justice Department says that, along with Microsoft, Google, Verizon, and Yahoo have all stopped complying with search warrants since the lower court’s decision.

The Supreme Court will hear the case early in 2018 and hope to have a decision by June.

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