Apple has put a lot of energy into the development of ARKit since it launched the software with iOS 11, and its confirmed purchase of little-known UK developer IKinema hints the company has plans for much more.
What Apple has done?
Apple quietly acquired IKinema, a company that develops software for motion capture, games and VR. Its solutions were already capable of creating characters that moved fluidly and could be used to create immersive environments in virtual space.
Apple has a track record for such strategic acquisitions:
Think back to big creative purchases such as those of Shake, PrimeSense, EMagic (Logic) and Macromedia’s Final Cut, for example (or, for that matter, SoundJam, which became iTunes – or Beats).
In this case, Apple appears to have invested in an industry tool that seemed to have plenty of adoption among game and AR experience developers.
An investment in tools for the creation of immersive AR experiences makes sense, not only in terms of the company's continued exploration of AR on iOS devices, but also as it relates to Apple Arcade game development, AR glasses and creative apps.
Augmenting reality takes time
Apple’s vision for the software has been clear from the start:
[ Further reading: How AR and VR will change enterprise mobility ]
“We’re delivering the biggest AR platform in the world,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior VP Software Engineering, said at WWDC 2017. Apple set out to provide developers the tools they needed to build, “detailed and compelling virtual content on top of real-world scenes for interactive gaming, immersive shopping experiences, industrial design and more.”
Apple has improved ARKit every year since launch.
Announced at WWDC 2019, ARKit 3 introduced new tools for AR: Motion Capture, which lets developers integrate people’s movement into their app, and People Occlusion, a feature that can show AR content behind or in front of people.
“The new app development technologies unveiled today make app development faster, easier and more fun for developers, and represent the future of app creation across all Apple platforms,” said Federighi earlier this year.
It’s all about the tools
The company also introduced RealityKit and the Reality Composer app at WWDC 2019. Many saw these as steps toward future introduction AR development solutions. That seems increasingly inevitable:
Having invested deeply in ARKit, Apple must recognize the need for better tools – it does, after all, already serve up its own industry-essential tools for the creative markets: Logic Audio and Final Cut Pro X.
The latter now supports 360-degree video import and VR playback through HTC Vive Pro goggles, making it a useful in the creation of virtual worlds.
Creating such worlds takes horsepower, of course. If you think rendering image effects on your Mac makes it warmer, imagine the power it takes to create multi-dimensional 3D experiences in AR space.
Of course, when it comes to machines equipped with such horsepower, Apple already has the tool: its soon-to-launch Mac Pro. These should carry more than enough power for the creation of AR environments.
With a platform in place, an army of developers equipped with tools for the implementation of AR in apps, and partnerships across the space, it's no surprise that Apple wants to make the creation of such experiences as easy as possible even while making the end user experience more convincingly realistic.
On top of that, a venture capitalist told BI that Apple is “actively” looking for visual effects start-ups.
Put simply, Apple’s purchase of the obscure UK graphics company suggests it seeks to deliver an end-to-end solution for the creation, distribution and consumption of AR experiences. Now, why would it want to do that?