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With the iPhone X, can Apple become the next AR leader?

With the growing adoption of Apple's ARKit, and the rumored infrared camera of the iPhone X, Apple could be poised to disrupt the augmented reality market.

Video: How Apple could become the leader in augmented reality

Every year, when September rolls around, Apple fans often begin thinking about a new iteration of the iPhone. After all, Apple has historically released a new version of its flagship smartphone around the same time each year since 2007.

However, 10 years later, the hype around new handset releases seem far less thrilling. As the latest and greatest hardware becomes ever more commoditized, mobile leaders are looking to next-generation software to differentiate their offerings.

For Apple, one particular tech trend could help re-energize its fan base and re-establish its mobile leadership: Augmented reality (AR).

SEE: Executive's guide to the business value of VR and AR (free ebook)

Apple launched its augmented reality developer kit, ARKit, back in June at the WWDC event. A native part of iOS 11, Apple claimed that its combination of APIs, natural language processing capabilities, and third-party frameworks made it the "largest AR platform in the world."

Leading up to its September 12 event, the Cupertino giant began showing off the capabilities of ARKit, prompting rival Google to do the same with its ARCore platform. As such, it is clear that both companies see AR as a competitive differentiator.

Google has already put some AR-based products into the market with its Tango devices and corporate partnerships. However, the rumored iPhone X is said to have infrared camera capabilities and 4K video support, which could make it an attractive, mass-market AR machine.

Development with ARKit is ramping up as well. The Made With ARKit website shows just some of the projects that developers are working on. If Apple can convince users of the value and possibilities of AR, it could set itself up as one of the future leaders in the mobile AR space.

David Nedohin, Scope AR's co-founder and president, is now supporting ARKit on his Remote AR product, and has been working to help monetize the platform. Nedohin said that "ARKit has been a dream to work with" and his team was able to adapt his live support video calling application for the platform in just a few days.

Despite its straightforwardness and ease of use, he said, there are some limitations. For example, "it only provides plane finding for horizontal surfaces (which is a little buggy), and storing the tracked scene with some kind of scene serialization (for example, HoloLens and Tango have this functionality)."

Regardless, Apple's AR push with ARKit could help open up the market beyond just early adopters and enthusiasts, Nedohin said. Pretty soon, nearly every iOS user will have some exposure to AR through ARKit, allowing them to use the technology in their everyday lives.

It also has potential to impact the developer community.

"Previously, AR experiences required fiducial markers or had fairly weak markerless capabilities, and they were not robust enough for consumer-level experiences," Nedohin said. "But with ARKit, the tracking provided will allow developers to focus on their specific application rather than the underlying technology that allows the experience to blend with the real world."

Outside of the consumer world, AR is growing in the enterprise as well, surpassing virtual reality (VR) in terms of traction. Companies like Google and Microsoft already have key partners in this area, but further adoption and support of ARKit could win Apple some corporate cohorts, too.

Technologies like AI, AR, and VR are the next battleground in mobile. If Apple wants to maintain the dominance it has held for so long in the smartphone world, it not only needs to bet big on AR, it needs to go all in.

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Image: Apple
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