Apple has been pretty quiet recently. Whilst the other giants in Silicon Valley have been releasing their VR and AR offerings like crazy, Apple has taken a backseat, leading to much speculation. Many, in fact, have started moving away from the brand in boredom, muttering that Apple’s glory days are over.

Admittedly, since the death of Steve Jobs, things haven’t exactly been awe-inspiring on the Apple front. There was the Apple Watch, which, after initial fanfare, could barely elicit a “meh” on the consumer market. Then, this eerie silence…

But appearances are often deceiving. Far from shrugging their shoulders and giving up, Apple is actually very hard at work. Their silence merely means that they’re about to hit us with something earth-shaking.

The Apple ARKit might not be the next iPod right now, but what it means for the next step for Apple could be a clue to how high the tech monolith is aiming.

The Apple ARKit is a tool for iOS 11 that allows developers the opportunity to create AR apps using the computer vision capabilities in the device. Surfaces can be mapped in real time, and digital images, animations, and dynamic lighting can be superimposed on the real world. In short, it could be the forerunner for positioning Apple as the first brand to really bring AR to the mass market.

Let’s look at three of the most awesome developments being made with the Apple ARKit that have hit the headlines recently.

Clay VR Gesture Recognition

Let’s start with this little beauty.

With no extra hardware, simply running on the iPhone’s camera, this serious gesture-tracking interface has the potential to change everything.

The Clay VR SDK that’s already functional with the Unity engine is working on integrating the functionality with iOS 11. At present, Clay works on the Microsoft Hololens, using gesture control for the pinching motion used to interact with virtual objects within the AR headset.

The difference here is that the iPhone, of course, is not an AR headset. Nonetheless, as the video above suggests, Clay VR integration will allow controller-free navigation of VR experiences through the iPhone that can be hooked up to your Apple computer.

Inside-Out Tracking for VR

Using the Apple ARKit, Nexus Interactive Arts has been experimenting with basic inside-out positional tracking and ‘pass-through’ AR to work with the Google Cardboard.

Whilst there’s still some bits to be ironed out, Nexus’s work with the Apple ARKit does demonstrate the sheer versatility offered by the kit itself.

Freakin’ Laser Beams

3D lasers are set to be integrated into the rear of the iPhone in an unspecified upcoming model. Combining this new piece of hardware with the AR capabilities offered by the Apple ARKit, significant improvements in depth measurement will make AR much more lifelike.

The laser system is that known as the VCSEL, which calculates the distance that the light from the beam travels to its target and back to the sensor. This generates a ‘Time of Flight’ measurement that effectively gives the device depth-perception. This will enable any AR software to more accurately place virtual objects within the image of the real-world space.

Whilst we are still stuck in the phase of smartphone-based AR, with decent AR headsets some time off, what the ARKit represents is a step towards the AR era. Once we are first comfortable and then enthusiastic about augmented reality, then will be the time that our favourite tech overlords companies will release those all-important AR headsets.