Google has announced changes to ARCore as part of its annual I/O developer conference.

ARCore is Google’s Android augmented reality (AR) development kit, and the company claims hundreds of ARCore apps have been built for Android since ARCore left testing and went live three months ago.

AR is one of the few areas where Google hasn’t been a recent leader, with Apple’s ARKit giving it a slight leg up. Two of the three additions to ARCore are just copies of features Apple already has available in ARKit, but Google has put ARCore ahead of Apple in one important area: shared AR experiences.

Coming ARCore changes

Google cites three updates to ARCore in its blog post: Cloud Anchors, vertical plane detection, and a new framework called Sceneform, which aims to make AR development simpler.

Let’s start with Sceneform, which Google said it built as a layer on top of complicated APIs. “Java developers can now build immersive, 3D apps without having to learn complicated APIs like OpenGL.”

If Sceneform sounds a lot like Apple’s SceneKit that’s because it is: Apple says SceneKit makes AR development easier by allowing developers to skip learning APIs like Metal and OpenGL: “SceneKit requires only descriptions of your scene’s contents and the actions or animations you want it to perform.”

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)

Vertical plane detection allows AR objects to be placed on flat surfaces like tables, which is something Apple’s ARKit has been able to do since iOS 11.3 was released several months ago.

Sceneform and vertical plane detection may just be Google playing catch up, but its Cloud Anchors aren’t–they’re a genuine leap forward.

Cloud Anchors work like traditional AR anchors, which allow a virtual object to be anchored in any point in space, something that Apple’s ARKit can already do. What ARKit can’t do, and Cloud Anchors can, is share those anchors with other people for multiuser AR experiences.

Developers on Apple’s forums have managed to get shared AR anchors working, but as of right now that’s not something Apple is officially supporting.

Google is building Cloud Anchors for use on both iOS and Android devices, and oddly enough VentureBeat reports that Cloud Anchors are coming to iOS before Android.

AR developers who want to get their hands on these new features can download ARCore 1.2 on Google’s ARCore developer website today.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Google has announced changes to its ARCore augmented reality development kit that add new features designed to improve AR apps and make development easier.
  • Apple’s ARKit is already capable of doing two of the three things Google announced, but Google’s new Cloud Anchors, which allow for shared AR experiences, puts it ahead of Apple in the AR race for now.

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