SAN JOSE, Calif. – At the pop-up Swift Strike Bowl, players stand over a circle with an iPad in their hands, await an animated bowling ball to appear on the screen and then push the tablet forward to move the imaginary ball and attempt a strike.
The mini bowling alley has been set up at the Worldwide Developers Conference here to entice app makers into using its augmented reality software tools and push the idea of mixing live action and animation in apps. Apple’s been pushing AR now for two years now, but so far, the reality is, the public has yet to bite.
Can you name that one killer AR app, beyond 2016’s Pokemon Go, that you’ve seen friends playing?
So at WWDC here, Apple tripled down on its bet, adding new software tools to make AR more realistic by adding the human body into the picture instead of just a flat surface. The software tools are called ARKit 3, and Apple created them to entice developers to use them and take them to the next level.
Apple points to several AR apps that showcase cool uses of the technology, including Froggipedia, which is used to dissect animated frogs, and “is a sterling example of how AR technology has moved leaps and bounds,” according to Apple. The company this week handed a Design Award (Apple’s best of show) to the app Butterfly IQ, which connects to Ultrasound equipment to show women on an iPad what it sees via AR.
Retailers IKEA and Wayfair use AR to preview furniture in the home before you buy.
Despite the available tech tools, the top app downloads are traditional 2D.
Apple faces a tough road ahead. The new tools are impressive, but the reaction USA TODAY picked up in random chats with app developers here was muted. In a nutshell, they didn’t appear to share Apple’s enthusiasm.
“It’s not there just yet; it needs many more years,” says Andy Davis, an app developer for a British retailer. “I’m waiting for it to become more mainstream.”
“It doesn’t look natural,” says Viktor Shemchuk of the Ukraine based app Setapp.
Nicolo Stancui, an app developer from Germany who works on car apps, dismissed the whole idea of AR at all. “We need to wait for the magic glasses that may arrive in a year or two.”
Realistically, all Apple really needs are some big hits, and one of them could come real soon. At WWDC, game maker Mojang showed off an upcoming version of Minecraft Earth, using the ARKit3 tools to bring the world of Minecraft and real people together in animation meets live action.
More: WWDC 2019: Meet Apple’s youngest app developer, Ayush
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Xavier Carillo Costa, the CEO of Barcelona based game maker Digital Legends, was more optimistic than other developers we spoke with. The new AR tools “open a lot of possibilities for developers,” he says. AR never took off in a big way because Apple’s introduction of software tools in 2017 was a little early. Sometimes it just needs time.”
He sees AR as best suited for gaming and putting the player into the game. But is he ready to start adding AR to his games? “Maybe.”
Interviewed at an Apple sponsored event for showcasing cool new apps, Baz Palmer from Weyo, an Australian based app developer, showed off an upcoming AR game based on the children’s TV classic “Sesame Street.” In the game, the child uses the iPad camera to morph into one of the “Sesame Street” characters and enter their world.
“For kids, this is one of the most immersive ways to get their attention,” he said, “Now they can become part of the story and play actively.”
Weyo used ARKit3 to produce the game, which will be released in the fall.
And speaking of kids, when we asked Ayush Kumar, who at 10 is the youngest app developer attending WWDC (on a student scholarship) for his thoughts on AR, he said he couldn’t wait to start working with ARKit 3 and specifically liked how he could use the human body in gaming.
AR never took off because the tools were “really new and hard to use” for creating apps, he says. “You have to have a flat surface, and everything has to work out just right.”
ARKit 3 makes it easier, he says. “I really want to code with that,” he adds.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.