Now that we finally have vertical plane recognition in ARKit (at least on a developer level until the spring iOS 11.3 release), the real promise of mobile augmented reality is beginning to come into focus on iOS. But a new report indicates that a major near future advancement of ARKit that could change everything has been put on hold by Apple.
On Tuesday, Axios claimed that it "has learned" that Apple is holding back some new features in its update to iOS until 2019. Specifically, in addition to a new home screen and significant updates to the car, photo, and mail apps, the site mentions a feature termed as "sharing experiences" being held back.
At first, it's not clear what "sharing experiences" refers to, but in a subsequent report, Bloomberg shed some light on what this probably means. Citing "a person familiar with the matter," the site claims that one of the iOS features that was set to make it into this year's iOS 12 update is "a multiplayer mode for augmented reality games."
If true, that's huge. However, Axios does state that "improvements in augmented reality" will still be coming out in iOS 12, so it's not entirely certain if the multiplayer mode for AR games is included as one of those "improvements" or if it's a "sharing experience" that may have to wait for an iOS 12.x update or even iOS 13.
One of the key drivers of mobile apps is gaming, and one of the key features of gaming is multiplayer experiences. Without multiplayer modes, a mobile game has to be fairly remarkable and addictive or it risks getting a just few plays before the user moves on. Although there aren't a large number of AR games in the App Store yet, the few that are there would benefit greatly from a shared/multiplayer mode.
In fact, it's possible that this feature could be the key to jumpstarting what has been (so far) a somewhat slow beginning to Apple's dream of an ARKit dominant App Store. Although Apple CEO Tim Cook has been very vocal regarding his belief that AR "will change everything," a recent Game Developer's Conference survey revealed that only 7% of game developers were focused on AR. If that survey is indicative of the overall developer market, it means that we'll be mired in AR furniture and photo apps for at least another 12 to 18 months before the mobile AR gaming revolution Apple is hoping for truly takes off.
The good news is that iOS users could be happily battling each other in multiplayer mode AR game apps by as early as this summer when iOS 12 is released to beta testers after WWDC. This landscape will almost certainly push AR's entry into the mainstream to a new level. However, if this is considered a "sharing experience" and not an "improvement in augmented reality," we might not see this in beta form until an early 2019 update for iOS 12 or even later that year in iOS 13.
If the latter is true, by waiting longer than anticipated, Apple will be giving everyone else working on mobile AR (ARCore, HoloLens, Magic Leap, etc.) time to catch up and perhaps surpass them. The reason the aforementioned reports give for Apple's decision to delay the new features is a focus on improving the overall iOS software experience before rolling out other features.
We may find out more from Apple on Thursday when it holds its next quarterly earnings conference call. Or, we might just have to wait until June to see if it's in iOS 12 or if we'll have to wait until iOS 13.