Apple will use LiDAR this year as a compelling story for iPad Pro, and we expect, iPhone 12 later this year. LiDAR works similarly to the front-facing TrueDepth sensor, but rather than being optimized for the face, it allows users to scan a depth-accurate depiction of their surroundings.
From an article in Apple Insider by Daniel Eran Dilger.
The concept isn’t new. A few months after Apple acquired PrimeSense in 2013, we detailed how the 3D scanning “structure sensor” technology it acquired could be used to scan models of objects. And before that, other companies that partnered with PrimeSense used the technology to power such concepts as Microsoft’s Kinect for body motion tracking used in video games and “natural interaction” applications, effectively fully body gestures.
LiDAR on the iPad Pro adds specialized hardware to perform rapid, accurate depth imaging that makes ARKit (Augmented Reality) work that much better, expanding its capabilities. It’s a bit like putting glasses on a genius child, who can now use their innate visual cortex functions even more efficiently and with greater clarity, unlocking new abilities to analyze the world and enjoy life. In the same fashion, LiDAR hardware makes ARKit software and the apps that use it work even better and do new things that are either less practical or not at all possible with standard camera sensors.
The new LiDAR camera sensor that debuted in Apple’s latest iPad Pro this week is an enhancement upon the depth sensing TrueDepth front-facing imaging array that first made its appearance on iPhone X in late 2017. This year as it arrives on iPhone 12, LiDAR appears set to achieve a massive installed base of tens of millions of users. Here’s why that’s important.
Pay Back to the Future
Apple is often chided for not being the first company to roll out new technology. Three years ago, I addressed this in the editorial When Apple is 2 years behind you, put your things in order, which noted that “there is a solid decade of evidence that, for Apple, being behind is a competitive advantage.”
Apple’s core competency involves building out a shippable product that can justify its price.
Through the AR Looking Glass
LiDAR on the iPad Pro adds specialized hardware to perform rapid, accurate depth imaging that makes ARKit work that much better, expanding its capabilities. It’s a bit like putting glasses on a genius child, who can now use their innate visual cortex functions even more efficiently and with greater clarity, unlocking new abilities to analyze the world and enjoy life. In the same fashion, LiDAR hardware makes ARKit software and the apps that use it work even better and do new things that are either less practical or not at all possible with standard camera sensors.
LiDAR will be an even greater game-changer on iPhone, as it will dramatically expand the installed base of LiDAR-capable users. In one year, Apple will have many tens of millions of users on LiDAR-equipped hardware, enabling a base for developers to take advantage of its features. One of the largest problems for Google’s Tango was that developers had no incentive to code specifically for it, because the hardware to use it was only installed on a few niche models. There was never any realistic hope that large numbers of Android users would end up with Tango phones because the main attraction to Android is cheapness.
By rapidly adding LiDAR hardware across its product line, Apple will further differentiate iOS and establish its platforms as the way to develop cutting edge AR applications empowered by LiDAR’s “time of flight” sensing data. The obvious next big step for AR is shifting advanced depth imaging sensors to display computer-generated graphics on a lens you look through, rather than just mixing them with video to create a composite, “augmented” depiction of reality.
With development attached to Apple’s software and the unique hardware of its installed base, it will be very difficult for rivals to ship out anything comparable.
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