If you hadn’t noticed, Apple has embraced augmented reality in a big way.
Whether it’s on-stage demonstrations at key events throughout the year, with companies like Lego and Microsoft, or encouraging app developers, such as Ikea, to enable you to see if a bit of furniture fits in your home, the company wants you to know that, not only is AR possible with an iPhone, you can easily try it for yourself.
Its latest push to showcase augmented reality is not to release another “gotta catch ’em all” experience, but to put on a series of walking talks around six global Apple Stores that bring dedicated AR art installations to life.
The AR[T] Walk sessions, which are free to all but need to be booked, feature works by a range of contemporary artists and start in Apple Stores in London, New York, San Francisco, Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Within each walk you will six very different and unique pieces to suit a range of tastes and ideologies. They were created by seven artists from the leading destination for contemporary art in New York City, New Museum.
Going on an AR[T] Walk
The walk itself lasts around two hours. Apple provides you with a dedicated iPhone XS Max completed with the pre-installed AR[T] app and a pair of headphones to make the experience as effortless as possible.
By using Apple’s equipment you ensure you aren’t interrupted with calls or notifications as you move between virtual installations, while the tour guide has full control in making sure the app works for each experience.
Each installation takes around five to 10 minutes to enjoy before you move onto the next. The time between them is left to discuss what you thought of the experience with the nine other people in your session.
In London, as found on our own walk, the event is run from Apple’s Covent Garden Store and takes in Covent Garden’s Piazza, Trafalgar Square, plus various side streets along the way.
Thanks to some help from the Apple tour guides, the installations are easy to find once you’ve “anchored” the iPhone. This involved giving the software time to know exactly where you were by scanning your surroundings. It will then pick up an anchor point on a street sign or specific virtual marker.
It’s not something that’s available to third-party developers at the moment, but does mean those on the tour can find the virtual installations quickly.
Whatever the weather
All six installations are the same in each of the six countries it is running. However, as Apple explained, the experience varies because of the location and, at times, the weather.
Pipilotti Rist’s piece, for example, is one of the installations where the weather can have a dramatic effect on how you see the outcome.
It sees an ethereal balloon-like shape whizzing high through the sky over Trafalgar Square. If you are faced with blue skies the experience feels fun and carefree, but if there are grey clouds it presents a very different meaning. The piece is both memorising and alien at the same time.
Meanwhile, Cao Fei’s seemingly never-ending interactive production line, which is set in a small London courtyard just off the main Covent Garden Piazza, makes you think about the power of consumerism – how it can have no beginning or end.
Each installation is different but each comes with its own moment of joy or bafflement. Another common thread is that they each enable you to experience the different opportunities that are possible with augmented reality.
Carsten Höller’s sketched-out AR experience made us feel like we were in that famous 1980s A-ha video for “Take On Me”. Mind you, what we had to do and why it was important escaped us.
Perhaps our favourite of the AR pieces was the one created by Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg. Set next to St Martin-in-the-Fields you chase a number of teasing speech bubbles until you find that the voice that’s been talking to you the entire time.
It’s not the graphical style or the meaning of the piece that pleased us, but trying to line-up the speech bubbles to people walking by was great fun. And, seeing the bemusement of passers-by as 10 people all pointed their iPhones at a tree, was hilarious.
It turned out it was too much for one Japanese tourist who joined in without a clue, or the much-needed app. He did eventually ask us what we were doing though.
In many ways, that’s what Apple is trying to achieve here.
For two hours of your time, you can start to experience the world of AR without any real commitment. While others around you will become intrigued enough to want to find out more.
Nick Cave Amass installation
For those that don’t have as much time to spare or aren’t in a city that runs the tour, there are AR experiences to try out in all Apple Stores around the world too.
Chicago-based artist Nick Cave has created “Amass”, a separate AR installation that is available to view in stores without the need to sign up for the AR[T] Walk session.
Visitors can use the [AR]T viewer in the Apple Store app on their own devices to view and collect “Ikon Elements” around the location.
It’s fun and very playful, although it’s fair to say you’ll be pleased Apple Stores don’t look like that all the time. Wow!
The AR[T] tours are available via the Today at Apple booking pages and should be running at various times throughout the day until the end of the year.