Apple CEO Tim Cook told us that augmented reality would change everything, and now we have a better idea of exactly what he meant.
A new report reveals that Apple is already hard at work on a rear-facing 3D sensor for the iPhone that would vastly expand the iPhone's AR capabilities by allowing it to interact with the rest of the world in AR beyond selfies and Animoji.
Citing anonymous sources familiar with the development, Bloomberg claims that Apple's new rear-facing sensor would not use the same front-facing, TrueDepth camera system currently employed by the iPhone X. Rather, it would use a time-of-flight sensor, which emits laser pulses that bounce off real objects and then measures the time it takes those pulses to travel between the sensor and those objects, establishing a rough physical map of the surrounding objects for the AR app to interact with.
Using this rear-facing sensor system, this future iPhone would be able to detect the spatial characteristics of an environment, thus enabling occlusion (for example, allowing an AR dog to appear to walk behind a real chair in the same room) and enhancing the realism of virtual objects for the viewer.
No other details were revealed in the report, but this kind of AR sensor has been in development for some time. Just last year, Lenovo announced the Google Tango-powered Phab 2 Pro smartphone, which is equipped with a time-of-flight sensor, but poor reviews regarding the device's overall functionality cast a pretty big shadow over its debut in the mainstream market.
If Apple can get the rear-facing sensor execution right, the AR capabilities of the iPhone, along with the growing list of ARKit apps, could be the biggest factor in taking AR mainstream in the near future.
But if you were on the fence about getting the pricey new iPhone X, don't hold your breath for Apple's "next" iPhone — the report claims that it won't be ready until 2019. In the meantime, we can all get in some basic AR practice with the roughly 1,000 ARKit-powered apps currently in the iOS App Store.