Apple’s next big leap might be into augmented reality

Apple’s iPhone may be ready for its next big act — as a springboard into “augmented reality,” a technology that projects life-like images into real-world settings viewed through a screen.

If you’ve heard about AR at all, it’s most likely because you’ve encountered “Pokemon Go,” in which players wander around neighborhoods trying to capture monsters only they can see on their phones. AR is also making its way into education and some industrial applications, such as product assembly and warehouse inventory management.

Now Apple is hoping to transform the technology from a geeky sideshow into a mass-market phenomenon. It’s embedding AR-ready technology into its iPhones later this year, potentially setting the stage for a rush of new apps that blur the line between reality and digital representation in new and imaginative ways.

CEO Tim Cook hailed AR as a “profound” technology in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek in June. “I am so excited about it, I just want to yell out and scream,” Cook said. Many analysts agree. “This is the most important platform that Apple has created since the app store in 2008,” said Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.

There’s just one catch: No one can yet point to a killer app for AR, at least beyond the year-old (and fading) fad of “Pokemon Go.” Instead, analysts argue more generally that AR creates enormous potential for new games, home-remodeling apps that let you visualize new furnishings and decor in an existing room, education, health care and more.

We just don’t yet know what they’ll actually do or look like.

AUGMENTING THE IPHONE

At Apple, the introduction of AR gets underway in September with the release of iOS 11, the next version of the operating system that powers hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads around the world

Tucked away in that release is an AR toolkit intended to help software developers create new AR apps.

Those apps, however, won’t work on just any Apple device — only the iPhone 6S and later models, including the hotly anticipated next-generation iPhone that Apple will release this fall. The 2017 iPad and iPad Pro will run AR apps as well.

Apple isn’t the only company betting big on AR. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg talked up the technology at a company presentation in May, calling it a “really important technology that changes how we use our phones.” Apple rivals such as Google and Microsoft are also starting to deploy AR systems .

WAITING FOR APPLE’S NEXT BIG THING

Apple has…

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