Many iPhone owners have used AR on their Apple phones before, even though they haven’t. One of the most useful AR tools built into the iPhone is its simpler, virtual tape measure in the Measured app: useful when you want to determine the width of your new bed or the size of the frame you need to hang that photo on the wall. And five years ago, Niantic Labs Pokémon Go has become a viral AR sensation, with millions of people experiencing the physical world through their phone screens as they hunted virtual game characters.
The difference with AR games like Pokémon Go, Wetzstein says, do they still mostly depend on the phone’s Wi-Fi and GPS radios to pinpoint location, sensors that can’t provide location information nearly as accurate as ultra-broadband technology. Something cheap and low-powered like AirTag, Wetzstein says, seems like “the perfect choice” for enabling apps that depend on more precise tracking.
Jessica Brillhart, who heads the mixed reality lab at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, points out that location beacons could also be a way to share two-way information about objects in a space. Attach one of those tags to an object, give it a name, and “the system can learn on a large scale what makes a refrigerator, what makes a bridge, what makes a tree,” says Brillhart. “So it’s an access point, but it works in tandem, providing information to the system and helping people contextualize the world.”
It should be noted that Apple has not identified this as a specific use case for AirTags, but the fact can only be ignored once a network of location-sensitive devices exists around the world. , this network could provide the knowledge needed to unlock more powerful applications. .
“The biggest hurdle in AR is really knowing what you’re looking at or knowing where you are, but these AirTags can help with that understanding,” says Brillhart.
Apple has yet to respond to requests for comment on this story. But Apple’s AR ambitions probably don’t end with AirTags, the Measure app, and flashy games. The company would be working on AR glasses, just like Facebook, Break, and others, although more recent reports suggest Apple’s first heads-up display is perhaps more of a niche device than a user-friendly product.
But even if these Apple AR glasses come and go and become a hit, and even more AR games like Pokémon Go emerge to steal the hearts of children and adults alike, iPhone owners will continue to experience AR in more mundane, but ultimately more useful, ways. Whether they’re using their iPhone to measure a workbook for their home office or following the arrows on the screen to find their AirTagged backpack before rushing to school, they’re connected to the vision of Apple of augmented reality. No glasses required.
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