Furnishing a room from scratch can feel like a shot in the dark: Even after you've contorted yourself on the floor trying to measure different spaces, and then found Ikea furniture you think will fit those specifications, it's hard to picture how things will really look in your apartment — until, that is, you've ordered, unboxed, and assembled.
So it felt like something close to Hogwarts-level wizardry last week when Michael Valdsgaard, Ikea's Leader of Digital Transformation, opened an app on his phone and plopped various pieces of (virtual) furniture onto the empty rug in front of him. Without measuring anything, Valdsgaard was able to select a chair, then a bed, and see how both 3D, true-to-scale pieces, "fit" on his rug on his screen.
This version of magical, virtual furnishing is part of Ikea's upcoming Place app, one of the first apps to use Apple's new ARKit technology. The software, part of iOS 11, makes it easy for developers to create augmented reality experiences that anyone with an iPhone can use and play with.
Augmented reality (AR for short) has been hailed as the future of technology because it has far fewer barriers to entry than virtual reality. Part of that is because AR doesn't require you to invest in a bulky headset or hold controllers — you only need your phone. If you tried out Pokémon Go when it launched last summer, or you've used world lenses on Snapchat, you've already experienced AR. The rapid success of both speaks to how much we like playful, virtual enhancements to the world we live in. It's exciting to see our worlds transformed, and the fact that you only need your phone for this to happen means AR can also be extremely practical.
Of course, Ikea isn't the only company making use of the software. In addition to furnishing your new kitchen from your phone using AR, you'll be able to shoot virtual zombies in The Walking Dead: Our World, an app from Next Games and AMC, and create animated GIFs that fill up a friend's entire room in Giphy's Giphy World app.
Apple also isn't the only company to bring AR to smartphones. Today, Google announced its own version of ARKit called ARCore, which will let developers create augmented reality apps for Android devices. Apple's ARKit-built apps will come to your iPhone as soon as iOS 11 officially rolls out to the public sometime this fall; ARCore, meanwhile is rolling out as a preview starting today.
If The Walking Dead AR app is any indication of what's to come, you can probably expect Netflix, HBO, and Amazon to release their own AR apps that will immerse you in its shows. Who knows, you could find yourself spotting White Walkers outside your apartment as the cold winter months begin.