Two weeks ago, Apple introduced ARKit, its solution for
placing 3D objects realistically into a ‘real’ place.
Basically, augmented reality.

And it just so happens that the Holy Grail of the home decor
and architecture game has been, for years, being able to place
decor and furniture inside a customer’s actual space. Over the
past decade, as mobile has taken off, that dream has been
transferred from the desktop web browser to phones and tablets.

A couple of factors have lined up to allow this category to
explode and become, I believe, one of the first big breakout
uses of AR in the App Store.

  • First, these kinds of apps need a huge library of 3D models
    of furniture and accessories. Whole companies were born in the
    early days that just offered to scan and import these for big
    companies.
  • The tech that allowed them to accurately perform SLAM
    (Simultaneous Location And Mapping) calculations in real time
    is far from trivial. Placing objects into a world required
    people to build the tech from the ground up by creating models
    of the rooms as well as the objects themselves.

Both of these points are now moot.

I can’t tell you how many of these kinds of companies I’ve seen
over the years. Some of them were not bad at all, some were
terrible, all were pretty much held back by the technology it
took to map a room and place objects. I’ve written extensively
about how Apple’s purchases over the last few years have gotten
them to a place where they’re able to pack this into a phone —
you can read that here.

The best recent stab I’ve seen at this model is called
Modsy. It’s a pretty impressive process that
has you take a few smartphone pictures that it stitches
together and dresses up on its side, delivering you a fully
decorated room a couple of days later. But that’s still far
from real-time. ARKit is.

Modsy

 

So now here we are, with the ability for just about anyone to
spin up an AR window inside their app. I predict that we’re
going to see some real crap over the next few weeks and months
as people just “put an AR on it.” But aside from that, we’re
going to see a plug unstoppered on industries that needed a
reliable version of this kind of AR portal in order to execute
on a vision.

IKEA has announced that it is going to be
allowing people to see their particular brand of
lasts-just-long-enough furniture set into place in their own
homes. IKEA won’t be the last though, by far.

It was even pointed out to me on Twitter that Apple probably
just sherlocked the Pair app (a 500
Startups alum that we covered last August, incidentally) that
was part of its inaugural Planet of the Apps episode.

The years and years of attempts at this, along with the
technical pipeline of the modern online retail experience, has
led most big furniture and accessory (and fashion btw)
distributors to have all of their products modeled. Either from
the original designs (all done in 3D now anyway) or scanned
afterwards. Most catalog shots and online images are snapshots
of what is technically, at the least, a 360 degree model of an
object.

This means that there is a big pent up demand and a reservoir
of available material to populate AR worlds. Thousands,
hundreds of thousands — probably millions of 3D models of real
stuff.

And we’ve now removed what was the biggest technical hurdle by
divorcing the “room model” from the “object model.” Apple
democratized AR to the tune of hundreds of millions of
available portals — but it also did it to the tune of billions
of points of interest. Every physical “node” of the world is
now a potential layering aspect for AR.

 

This is just a curiosity when it comes to individual
experiences, but the potential is ridiculous when you start
thinking about it in a persistent way.

So if everyone can do it then the value is diminished, right?
Not really. This should just allow designers and developers to
move up the stack. Now they’re no longer burdened with adapting
an existing AR system to their needs or (shudder) manufacturing
them from scratch. The focus can be purely on big idea thinking
about how to apply AR, the experience of doing so, and how best
to conjoin it with other systems like voice, mapping and
photography.

Apple just built the AR industry’s shovel. Now all you have to
do is decide where to dig.

The initial wave of AR stuff will be right along the lines of
what I discussed above. Furniture placed in the real world to
see how it looks; filter; fun tricks; games. After that, we’re
going to see some really insane stuff as people see what it
means to have 350 million connected AR portals that could open
onto the same augmented world.

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