Apple Adds Much-Needed Vertical Surface Recognition in ARKit Update

When Apple unboxes the next major update to its mobile operating system this spring, iPhones and iPads will gain some significant new features for augmented reality experiences: verticality.

In a preview of iOS 11.3 released on Wednesday, Apple unveiled details for iterative improvements in ARKit version 1.5, chief among them the ability to recognize vertical surfaces. The initial release of ARKit was limited recognizing to horizontal surfaces, which was enough to anchor AR content to floors and tabletops, but provided a challenge to developers looking to account for walls and doors in their AR experiences.

For example, a room scanning app like Pottery Barn 3D Room Design, after discovering the floor of a room, requires users to tap at the base of the walls in order to estimate their location. Similarly, first-person shooter ARZombi asks players to mark the location of doors and windows, but the tracking is hardly accurate.

In addition to vertical surfaces, ARKit will also be able to map irregularly-shaped surfaces, such as round furniture.

ARKit 1.5 will also bring some overall quality of experience improvements with it. Apple promises a 50% increase in image resolution along with auto-focus to give AR content more realism. The sum of these added capabilities should result in more accurate room mapping (and fewer shortcuts) and better visual content.

Apple’s iOS 11.3 update will be available to all users this spring, but a preview version is available today for anyone enrolled in the company’s developer program, and the public beta preview version will follow shortly thereafter.

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