Alongside the release of the next version of ARCore, Google competition to Apple's ARKit, something new for the iPhone was announced. The feature is called Cloud Anchors, and it's all about creating a way for iOS and Android to share Augmented Reality experiences without needing to do a ton of work.
Google's Cloud Anchor system makes it possible for an AR app to host a session for other AR users to join, only instead of joining through a local network or some shared server system, you use the physical world. The person who hosts the AR experience acts as a sort of beacon with the information collected about the environment on their phone. Things like location points and depth information for the space where you want the AR experience to live are made available to other app users anonymously. This way, when the second user takes their phone and locates the same physical space, the two users are now able to share an AR experience where they both can place objects an interact with them.
The demonstrations for this system at Google I/O are impressively seamless. A Pixel 2 created a game for someone to join, and the iPhone running the same app was able to quickly join so both phones could play against one another. Not only was it fast, but the game itself was real-time and interactive. And while this game was built for two players specifically, Google says there is no limit to how many people could share an AR experience. That means a teacher could host an AR experience and a classroom full of kids with iPads could participate in a group AR exploration together with very little effort.
During Google's session for this feature, it was made clear this new SDK was available to drop in to ARKit in order to have the same shared experience ARCore 1.2 users will have on Android, which is exciting. This, combined with Google's WebXR system for creating AR experiences you can access through a web browser instead of an app, are big parts of the plan to create a unified ecosystem for AR instead of two different silos. Shared AR experiences are absolutely the way forward for many ARKit apps, and it's starting to look like Google's Cloud Anchors might be the best way for that to happen for a while.