This story is part of, CNET's complete coverage from and about Apple's annual developers conference.
I'm scrambling around a wooden floor, trying to fend off a giant virtual ball with my. It's a bowling alley, but it feels like a basketball court. A crowd cheers. Eli faces off across from me, pushing his iPad Pro forward, launching the ball at my face. I lose my footing. The ball shoots past me. I run after it. Too late. The pins were knocked down. I lost. Again.
But we're on a big court that's totally empty, except for us and our test iPads. We see the big ball, bowling pins, and us, running around among these things as if they're in our shared space. Welcome to Apple's imminent AR future: fast-paced, collaborative, and... still, headset-free.
While Microsoft has and has its magic AR goggles, Apple -- like Google -- is exploring augmented reality through flat screens. But while focus on utility and quick assistance, Apple is pushing even more realistic graphics and effects. Apple unleashed a at its WWDC developer conference that are coming this fall, including a whole AR-making toolkit called Reality Composer. ARKit 3, which to do its most impressive effects, is what Swift Strike is meant to show off. And it shows how far things have come in a year.
It's a multiplayer AR game, much like the one Eli Blumenthal, who's never played an AR game quite like this before).a year ago that had me knocking down blocks on a table with a ball. But that game last year was pretty stationary. This time, I ran around a far larger area, and so did my opponent (
I came away thinking that all I was really missing was the convenience of wearing a pair of AR glasses so I would not have to worry about looking down at an iPad all the time.
Occlusion is the coolest magic trick that Swift Strike offers. If people pass in front of AR things on an iPhone, like a, the illusion is shattered. But now ARKit 3 lets people walk in front and block the objects, as if they're really behind in the distance. It can layer virtual objects among real people... or layer real people into virtual AR things in a landscape. will use this trick, and so does Swift Strike.
While used for demo purposes, it's unclear if Apple will ever release this game to the masses.
To see it in action, check out the video in this story. Occlusion wasn't perfect, and sometimes objects flickered between being behind and in front of us. Sometimes objects became semi-transparent, either by game design or something else. But the realism that was added by occlusion was significant. Coupled with haptic vibrations on the iPad every time we hit the ball, iIt suddenly started to feel like we were stepping into the game.
But again, we're on an empty court, looking around for things on an iPad screen. That's fine when the ball is right in front of me, but really hard when the ball gets pushed past me and I try to find it again. I think I scored an own-goal when I backed up and pushed the ball when it was behind me. A 3D AR headset could help, obviously. Apple's not there yet, nor have any plans been announced, butas early as next year.
CNET's Eli Blumenthal, who played with me, sees it as a stepping stone toward immersive arcade attractions, too: "When we stepped onto the wooden floor to play Swift Strike, a demo of a bowling-like app built using the company's ARKit 3 software, the experience was different. It was interactive and engaging," he said. "The iPad Pros Scott and I were holding tracked our movements running around to push a virtual ball into stacked virtual bowling pins. The game registered the force with which we exerted ourselves to move the ball and tracked us even as we ran across the space."
"As companies like Sandbox VR and VR World NYC open up virtual reality arcades around the world, it's not hard to imagine this technology expanding to malls, parks and events, providing a new medium for people to come together and interact."
While multiplayer AR became available last year on iOS 12, bigger steps have been taken this year that should make games like this be a lot more possible. Shared maps are possible, where players scan a real space and collaboratively build a map that is shared between devices. Anchored objects, that are meant to stay in space and be seen by multiple people, can stay persistent. I think about , which I haven't played yet. It aims to unleash a lot of these ideas at once. Multiplayer AR games could finally start becoming the norm instead of the exception.
Eli and I both agreed that this isn't AR, perfected. This is only a demo, and it's well in advance of the release of ARKit 3 inside iOS 13 and iPadOS this fall. But it's a sign of a faster, more fluid AR world to come.
I need to get better shoes.