Here's why Apple fans are going crazy over tape-measuring apps right now

ARKitLian LabsAR Measure in action.

A new kind of app is surprising and delighting Apple fans and technology pundits — and you can’t even download them yet. 

Apple launched a new set of tools called ARKit earlier this month. The software, which has been in the works for years, allows developers to place virtual objects in the world when you look at it through your iPhone’s camera.

Apple hasn’t revealed what apps it’s cooking up internally with ARKit, but its armies of developers have already started to play around with the tools and figure out what they’re capable of. 

And it seems like the emerging technology has found its first viral hit: Simple tape-measuring. 

It started with this quick demo by Patrick Balestra of an app called ARuler showing how to measure the length of a golf club:

???? Measure distances with your iPhone. Just because you can. Clever little #ARKit app by @BalestraPatrick ????‍♂️
— Made With ARKit (@madewithARKit) June 25, 2017


This tweet got widely passed around in Apple programmer circles, with thousands of tweets and viewers marveling at how accurately it measured the distance. 

But a second, slightly more polished video from Laan Labs blew up. Their solution, called AR Measure, was complete with a virtual tape measure: 

A site that tracks ARKit demos, appropriately called “Made with ARKit,” tweeted the video and it’s been retweeted nearly 6,000 times at the time of publication. 

The reason why many programmers are so excited by these demos is because before Apple built ARKit into the iPhone, applications like these were really difficult to build — and nearly unheard of when using a standard camera. For example, Google has been pushing similar applications through its Tango program, but those apps require a very specific phone with a special kind of camera that can tell how far objects are from it.

Another startup, Occipital, has an application that can fully measure every distance in a room using an iPhone, but it requires a special separate 3D camera as well.

But by simply using the iPhone’s camera and its built-in sensors, programmers without extensive experience in computer vision or other complicated difficult technologies can make augmented-reality tape-measuring apps. And if you can accurately measure the distance between two objects, it’s not hard to imagine apps that can tell you, say, if IKEA furniture will fit through your door.

It’s too early to determine the ultimate accuracy of these measurements, but the eye test says the results are promising. 

Since these apps are using a beta version of the iPhone software, you might not be able to try them out, but you can sign up for updates here

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