On Tuesday, at Google's I/O developer conference, the company announced a huge update to its ARCore augmented reality toolkit that matches the latest features of ARKit, and surpasses Apple's AR platform via support for shared experiences.
Cloud Anchors is the name Google's new shared AR capability, which will work on Android and iOS. The new feature will make it possible for app developers to introduce multiplayer gaming and other collaborative experiences, such as home decoration and artwork to apps.
The first ARCore app to exhibit the new shared AR experiences will be Google's own Just a Line, with the multi-user feature arriving for Android and iOS within the coming weeks.
Google also took the opportunity to play catch-up to ARKit 1.5 by introducing vertical plane detection and Augmented Images, which overlays AR content over recognized images. The new capabilities are available to developers today.
"Three months ago, we launched ARCore, Google's platform for building AR experiences. There are already hundreds of apps on the Google Play Store that are built on ARCore and help you see the world in a whole new way," wrote Anuj Gosalia, director of engineering for AR at Google, in a blog post. "As announced today at Google I/O, we're rolling out a major update to ARCore to help developers build more collaborative and immersive augmented reality apps."
Speaking of helping developers, Google also unveiled Sceneform, a tool that gives Java developers the ability to create AR apps without having to learn new APIs, such as OpenGL. Sceneform facilitates building new apps from the ground up as well as updating existing apps with AR features. For instance, the NY Times app was updated for AR with Sceneform.
The idea of shared AR experiences has gained considerable momentum this year, with Google backing two such platforms: Blue Vision and Ubiquity6. However, it appears Google is pulling up short of making the shared experiences persistent.
"Very quick look at ARCore Cloud Anchors SDK docs…looks like processing of visual data is done in Google's cloud, and anchors aren't persistent across apps/sessions," tweeted Matt Miesnieks, CEO of 6D.ai, an AR cloud company.
Nonetheless, the advancements are a big win for Google in the race for mobile AR supremacy versus Apple, as the latter is reportedly delaying introduction of multiplayer gaming for ARKit until next year.