Apple gets on the VR/AR bandwagon, improves App Store for games

The company announced its support for Steam VR and showcased its new ARKit on iPhone

At its Worldwide Developers Conference 2017 today, Apple announced that macOS will finally support virtual reality via Steam VR. HTC Vive was used to demo an ILM experience running on Unreal Engine. This was made possible through a newly announced external GPU, which is being positioned as a developer kit housing an AMD Radeon RX 580 and a USB-C hub. This is big news for the HTC Vive team as it also just partnered recently with Google on the search giant's standalone VR initiative.

"Vive is driving the VR industry forward, and in just the last month alone, we have partnered with the world's most prominent and innovative tech giants including Google, Intel and Apple, who are aligning their VR efforts around Vive," said HTC Vive on its official blog. There was no mention of Oculus at WWDC, but it's worth noting that Steam VR apps are playable on Rift.

Aside from virtual reality, Apple also announced its intent to take augmented reality seriously with its new ARKit tool on iOS, which Apple boasted is now the "largest AR platform in the world." Hundreds of millions of iPhones will support ARKit, which Apple said offers "fast and stable motion tracking" that enhances AR capabilities by making objects appear as if they're really there as opposed to floating in space.

During WWDC, the company showed how ARKit can map a flat surface of a table and place a teacup on it in the virtual world. Peter Jackson's studio Wingnut AR then showed off a more complicated demo of a landscape built on Unreal Engine (ARKit also supports Unity and SceneKit). The Wingnut AR demo will be made available later this year, as will iOS 11 with a slew of improvements. Of course, it's worth noting that Google already offers AR with its Tango technology, but that's only available on a small number of Android devices.

Apple's conference was more than two hours long and covered new hardware configurations for Mac, Macbook and iPad, as well as a brand-new line in the vein of Amazon Echo, called HomePod, but the more significant announcement on the games development front is that the company also now supports in-app purchases right from the App Store description page. Apple announced that the redesigned App Store in iOS 11 would give games a larger video focus, enabling users to watch Let's Play videos in-app, as well as videos from developers and editors. Along with the ability to make in-app purchases without having to go into a game's menu, developers should benefit from these changes to improve discovery and more effectively communicate with the vast installed base iOS provides.

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