Apple TV Plus AR experience lets you live inside For All Mankind's memories
For All Mankind: Time Capsule feels like the future of TV and film bonus content.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Over the last year, I've found myself immersed in storytelling experiences told in AR and VR at festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Apple's first AR storytelling experience is launching ahead of the second season of the Apple TV Plus show, For All Mankind, and it reminds me of those projects. It's Apple's biggest dive yet into building longer-form AR experiences, flexing the AR tools Apple's been building out over the past year.
There are already plenty of AR storytelling apps on iOS and Android, but For All Mankind: Time Capsule leans into tech tools like spatial audio and lidar scanning to a greater degree. The roughly hour-long, multichapter experience revolves around old memories: a box of letters, VHS tapes that get played on a small TV, listening to music on a Walkman, or playing back answering machine messages. There's even an AR recreation of an Apple II that can be used to check messages between characters.
Watch this: For All Mankind: Time Capsule (AR trailer)
The concept of Time Capsule is to use memories to span the gap of time between the first and second seasons of For All Mankind, a show about an alternate history of America where the Soviet Union lands on the moon first. The second season of the show, arriving next week, takes place in the '80s and advances the characters over the years to a different phase of American space ambitions.
The AR-enabled app is available today, and while it can be run on older AR-ready iOS devices, it taps into lidar-equipped iPhones and iPads to unlock two extra scenes. One of them, using a slideshow projector, pulls off an impressive trick of projecting slide images across real objects in the room.
Apple's collaboration with the For All Mankind team started along with the second season of the show. A lot of the material in the experience was pulled from the production process. "It was interesting, because it [...] gave you a chance to really display a lot of stuff that normally is [...] left on the cutting room floor, even though you put a lot of time and effort into creating [it] in the first place," Ronald Moore, the creator of For All Mankind, said during a webchat with reporters.
The app could also be exploring ideas for where AR storytelling is going next with Apple. With an AR or VR headset reported to be in the works, AR experiences like these might be stepping-stone explorations in engagement. The touch interfaces for the experience could be exploring how to onboard people to AR experiences in the future. The length of the experience, too, may be an experiment to see how to evolve deeper AR interactions.
The materials in Time Capsule were drawn in part from content that the showrunners already had in the can, much like Blu-ray extras in TV shows and films can be pulled from the archives. "The writers and production teams typically are making a lot more material than ever shows up on a screen," producer Ben McGinnis says, "So it's not like it's a huge lift to add this material from a creative standpoint."
Which also raises the question: Is this the future of video and film extras for Apple TV Plus, or for entertainment in general? "It's been talked about for many years -- the notion of VR and AR has been around for a while -- but it's only [...] now that we're actually being able to translate the theory of it," Moore says. "I think people just have to start to play in this arena and see where it takes us."
For All Mankind: Time Capsule is, to be sure, an extra designed to pull people into watching the show. But it also seems, from the few previews I've seen from a distance, like one of the more ambitious phone AR experiences I've seen in a while.