A Major Feature In Apple\'s New IPad Pro Could Be A Clue To Where The Company\'s Products Are Headed

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It’s rare for Apple to drop hints about the new technologies and product areas the company is interested in before making an announcement. But CEO Tim Cook has been talking about augmented reality and its potential benefits for years – long before Apple even announced ARKit, the framework it launched in 2017 for developers looking to build AR-enabled apps for the iPhone and iPad.

Now, Apple’s new iPad Pro, announced last week, may provide the biggest hint yet at where the company’s hardware products are headed. The iPad Pro is Apple’s first gadget to come with dedicated hardware for augmented reality with its Lidar sensor, an addition that should make the iPad Pro better at understanding your surroundings to make augmented reality apps feel more realistic.

Augmented reality may not be a technology that most people care about, or are even very familiar with just yet. But the fact that it’s one of the headlining features of the new iPad Pro could mean that’s about to change. The new iPad Pro, with its dedicated AR sensors, may also lay the groundwork for what Apple could have planned for the iPhone and beyond.


The iPad Pro’s Lidar sensor

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Apple’s new iPad Pro
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Apple

The iPad Pro’s Lidar scanner – also sometimes referred to as a time-of-flight sensor – determines distance by measuring how long it takes for light to hit an object before reflecting back. When combining data taken from the Lidar scanner, the camera, and motion sensors, the iPad Pro should be quicker and more accurate when it comes to determining distance for placing and fitting digital objects to the world around you.

The company is also launching a new tool called the Scene Geometry API to help developers take advantage of the iPad Pro’s new Lidar sensor. When employing this tool, a furniture app like Ikea, for example, should be able to better understand the dimensions of the space next to your couch so it could suggest lamps or end tables that fit within that space. Apple also says that the Lidar sensor will help apps like its digital tape-measure app more easily and quickly calculate a person’s height.


Setting the stage for Apple’s broader AR ambitions

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An ARKit demo
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Apple

Apple has offered AR tools for app developers since 2017 when it launched ARKit. But the addition of a Lidar scanner suggests that augmented reality is a bigger priority for Apple beyond just helping developers optimize apps for existing iOS hardware. It’s the first sign that Apple is designing dedicated hardware around providing high-quality AR experiences, which can tell us a lot about what’s next for Apple’s other future products.

What developers decide to do with that Lidar scanner moving forward will be incredibly important, especially if Apple truly is planning to bring a similar Lidar sensor to its 2020 iPhones as reports and rumors have suggested so far.

Augmented reality certainly seems poised to boom in 2020: The International Data Corporation reported in November that worldwide spending on augmented and virtual reality solutions will reach $18.8 billion in 2020, a notable 79% increase from the $10.5 billion the IDC projected for 2019.

But that growth will be led by usage in the commercial sector, with the retail and manufacturing industries expected to spend the most. The iPad Pro can be key in showing the everyday person why they would want augmented reality in the first place, and that all depends on the apps and use cases developers come up with.


Succeeding where Google has failed

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Google’s Tango technology on an Asus phone
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Steve Kovach/Business Insider

Adding Lidar to the iPad Pro before bringing it to the iPhone – its biggest and most important product – is also a smart move on Apple’s part. Doing so could help potential shoppers better understand what Lidar does and why it matters. It could also provide developers with time to create new apps for it, before bringing the feature to the iPhone.

Apple’s decision to launch AR hardware years after it debuted ARKit makes a lot of sense, and could potentially help it succeed where Google has failed in the past when it comes to bringing augmented reality to smartphones.

Google shut down its Tango project, which brought augmented reality tech to smartphones through specialized cameras and sensors, in 2018 as it transitioned to ARCore, a tool set that lets developers bring AR apps to existing Android phones without specific hardware.

Google’s Tango hardware was only found in a limited number of smartphones, including the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro and Asus Zenfone AR, neither of which were smash hits. Google ultimately found that it made much more sense to bring AR apps to the phone you already own rather than requiring that you purchase a specific smartphone to get those capabilities.

Apple, too, seems to have followed this approach with ARKit. What makes Apple’s strategy different, however, is that it waited until after AR apps had made their way to the iPhone with ARKit before launching specialized hardware for AR, giving developers a few years to learn how to create AR apps and figure out what resonates with iPhone users first.


The iPhone 12 and beyond

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The iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Max
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Crystal Cox/Business Insider

The new iPad Pro could be paving the way for much more than the next-generation iPhone, which is expected to be called the iPhone 12 and could come with the same depth-sensing sensors as the new iPad and 5G connectivity, as Bloomberg and noted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo have reported.

Apple is expected to have a variety of augmented and virtual reality products in its pipeline, according to Bloomberg. Other than the iPad Pro and the iPhone 12, Apple is also reportedly planning to release a headset for augmented and virtual reality in 2021 or 2022, and a lightweight pair of AR glasses in 2023, the report says.

The iPad Pro, as well as the 2020 iPhone, could play a huge role in setting the stage for dedicated headsets down the line, as they’ll be tasked with showing the general public why they may want an AR headset in the first place. If Apple does launch AR and VR eyewear of its own, it will already have plenty of competition from tech giants like Facebook and Microsoft as well as from startups like Magic Leap.

But again, making an AR headset that’s as big of a hit as the iPhone could prove challenging considering much AR growth is expected to come from business and enterprise usage. The IDC, for example, predicts that there will be 16.5 million standalone AR headsets in the commercial segment by 2023, but only less than 1 million will be part of the consumer segment.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Cook from being optimistic about the potential AR has to offer. After all, the technology’s appeal to businesses is part of what makes AR so promising, he said on the company’s fiscal Q1 earnings call.

“You rarely have a new technology where business and consumer both see it as key to them,” he said. “So I think the answer is that’s the reason that I think it’s going to pervade your life.”

Source : https://www.businessinsider.com/apple-ipad-pro-lidar-scanner-augmented-reality-iphone-12-2020-3

A major feature in Apple's new iPad Pro could be a clue to where the company's products are headed
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