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Image credit: Chris Velazco / Engadget

ARKit is Apple's new reality-bending developer platform

'Pokemon Go' was just the beginning for augmented reality.
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Chris Velazco / Engadget

Apple is diving into the world of augmented reality. ARKit is Apple's new developer platform, allowing programmers to build apps that blend the real world with digital objects. It's due out later this year in iOS 11. ARKit supports Unity, Unreal and SceneKit -- opening up the worlds of AR game development and moviemaking -- and it offers motion tracking, plus plane, lighting and scale estimations.

Since ARKit will be available on iPads and iPhones, Apple CEO Tim Cook claims it will represent the world's largest AR platform. Compare it to Google Tango, for example: Google doesn't automatically include Tango on every Android device; instead, manufacturers must choose to include it.

Wingnut AR, The Hobbit director Peter Jackson's company, demoed an ARKit game onstage at Apple's WWDC event today. Creative Director Alasdair Coull held up an iPad Pro to a blank table, and onscreen, a living industrial village popped up, complete with townsfolk milling around and bombs dropping from planes. We also got a glimpse at an even more realistic version of Pokemon Go -- the OG AR app -- made possible via ARKit.

ARKit exists thanks in large part to advances in artificial intelligence technology. Apple hasn't exactly been secretive about its focus on machine learning: Within the past year alone, the company published its first AI research paper, hired a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, acquired the companies Turi and Lattice Data, and started building hardware specifically for AI. Almost exactly one year ago, during WWDC 2016, Apple teased how its own deep neural networks would improve the iPhone.

Siri is a driving force behind Apple's AI push. Voice-activated assistants have found a hungry market, and major companies including Amazon and Google are working quickly to build the best, most natural digital personality. At this year's I/O conference, Google showcased its AI efforts, focusing on technology that would help Home, Android and other gadgets better understand human behavior and language. So far, Google's early investments in AI have paid off.

Apple is hoping for similar results with its HomePod smart speaker, powered by Siri. The company revealed the Amazon Echo and Google Home competitor today, priced at $350 and due to hit stores in December.

Apple is also using upgrades in computer learning to improve iOS, watchOS, macOS, tvOS and its Photos app. Robust AI tech is crucial to Apple's self-driving car plans too.

Get all the latest news from WWDC 2017 here!

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