Apple on Wednesday made many announcements, but one that likely caught the ear of many travel companies is that the tech giant is working harder to make its iPhones serve as a platform for augmented reality.
Augmented reality describes how virtual objects can be overlaid on images of the real world, such as how the Pokemon Go game overlays cartoon images on real-world scenes observed through smartphone cameras.
In a presentation, Apple executives said they are improving the ability of iPhones to provide richer augmented reality experiences, such as by enabling users to interact with both the virtual and physical world and see the virtual objects respond accordingly.
New chips enable faster processing to run more sophisticated apps. For example, when Apple rolls out its iOS 12 software update on September 17, it will include a new Measure app — which will let users measure objects by eyeballing them via the smartphone camera rather than requiring a physical tape measure.
Anticipating the trend, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines earlier this month debuted a new feature in its mobile app to make it easy for passengers with a smartphone camera to see whether their hand baggage is of the correct size.
Customers can line up the virtual bag next to their real one to size up whether the hand baggage is fit to fly. KLM’s app for Apple devices superimposes a virtual KLM suitcase, sized to match the allowed dimensions for hand baggage on board, on the image of a customer’s luggage as seen through an iPhone camera.
TripAdvisor’s Game to Lose
It’s hard to think of a travel company that would have more to gain from the use of augmented reality than TripAdvisor, the user reviews giant.
TripAdvisor first experimented with augmented reality in 2011 with functionality for its app for iPads. The tool let travelers take a virtual walk through a destination, with TripAdvisor reviews data overlaid on images of places pulled from Street View from Google.
Apple’s newly announced augmented reality enhancements enable more powerful tools to be developed.
Both TripAdvisor and Apple need to act fast to seize the first-to-market opportunity.
In demonstrations at a May 2018 conference, Google has shown how many existing Android devices could enable users to open up Google Maps and then get reviews and related information about the various surrounding businesses by pointing the camera over their doorways. In the demo — not yet live as a product — features combine Street View and Maps data with a live feed from a phone’s camera along with data from reviews Google has aggregated to provide recommendations.
Google Maps said it would soon add an option that will spotlight recommendations for individual logged-in users based on their past likes and reviews and saved food preferences.
Hotels, Home Rentals, and Airlines Could Benefit
On Wednesday, Apple announced that it would shortly unveil an enhanced version of its year-old ARkit, which lets developers build augmented reality experiences into their apps.
It didn’t offer travel examples, but focused on showing augmented reality’s usefulness in multi-player games on the new high-end iPhone 10s.
Yet an intriguing potential use is that the Apple software update could let users visualize a hotel room, a vacation rental, or a premium-class aircraft cabin in augmented reality in a mobile app and let users interact with the three-dimensional image.
Apple’s announcements are still just an early wave of news in a broader movement to coax consumers to use augmented reality.
Cloud-based capabilities for augmented reality introduced in 2018 mean that real-time content can become more useful, according to Michael Park, the CEO and Founder of Spatial Canvas, a platform that lets consumers build, explore, and share augmented realities.
“The best analogy is desktop PCs pre-internet and post-internet,” Park said. “Once the internet emerged, desktop PCs became exponentially more useful.”
Separately, Apple has been working on an augmented-reality eyewear for possible sale in 2020 that would run on a new operating system, according to Bloomberg. Apple’s job postings since then suggest the story is true. Earlier this year, Apple bought Akonia Holographics, a company specializing in augmented reality, according to Reuters.
Apple executives did not hint at the details of the project during their presentation Wednesday.
In other announcements on Wednesday, Apple said that its latest mobile software, iOS 12 aims to make it easier for iPhone users to manage notifications from their lock screen and to fine-tune the types of messages they want to receive. Apple’s notifications changes will affect many travel apps.