With the dust finally settling on Apple’s launch of iOS 11, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge regarding the new operating system’s support for Augmented Reality. And – truth be told – the picture is that not only were those “disappointed” first impressions right, but that if anything the Cupertino giant’s offerings in the AR world are even more underwhelming they seemed at first.
One critic described the results as “demoware” and implied that they were more form than substance. Describing them as “cute” he warned of a high churn rate among early adopters. Another critic asked if sharks swimming in the living room even had any useful purpose – as entertainment or otherwise.
Now of course, we have to be careful about dismissing new technology. When television was first proposed – and even after it was invented and demonstrated – there were critics who questioned whether it had any value. And Harry Warner, of Warner Brothers, is famous for the quip: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” In fairness to Harry Warner, he was not dismissing sound accompanying movies altogether, only suggesting that the audience wanted to hear music rather than dialogue.
But the problem is that AR today is very much like the laser was when it was first invented: a solution looking for a problem.
That might explain, why despite iOS 11 and ARKit (for AR developers), the AR features of the iPhone 8, iPhone Plus and iPhone X were comprehensively played down at the launch of the phones, which also saw the announcement of a standalone Apple Watch.
Not many AR apps are available for the iOS just yet and the few that are, seem gimmicky and bug-ridden. Those who have seen the recent movie Kingsman: The Golden Circle, will remember a couple of scenes in which one character’s field of vision becomes overlaid with flying butterflies. However, iPhone AR isn’t actually there yet, as you would have to view this overlay not in your full FOV in a headset, but on a five inch screen.
Worse still, it appears that even these minimalistic AR apps are a monumental drain on the phone’s battery. And the Apps have also been criticized for being hard to understand and equally hard to interact with.
This plus the wide gulf between the pre-launch hype and the post-launch reality, has led to a deep sense of disappointment. It seems that the old adage that it is better to underpromise and overdeliver than to overpromise and underdeliver has been completely disregarded by a company that ought to know better.
This may be, simply because these are the first apps out of the starting blocks and have evidently been rushed to market to test the waters. No doubt, more serious contenders are playing their cards close to their chests while they design, develop, code and – most importantly – test their AR apps before releasing them. It is, after all, only three months since iOS11 was even launched. While this may not address the battery drain problem, at least it offers light at the end of the tunnel for those seeking better quality AR games.
Even the battery drain problem may be an exaggeration, as the negative reports have come from those running AR games on older phones that have been upgraded to iOS 11, but lack the punch of the iPhones 8 and X hardware. It remains to be seen whether the new iPhones can deliver the energy longevity and processing power to run these apps.
And it also remains to be seen whether the major players in software development can deliver the AR apps that provide the user experience that customers actually want.