When Apple launched the iPhone 12 line in October, it included an augmented reality (AR) technology called LiDAR in its higher-end models, the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max. LiDAR technology is part of the phone’s camera system that uses a pulsed laser to generate a 3D model of objects up to 5 meters away. That capability creates realistic AR experiences without the user having to make any adjustments.
And now developers and 5G mobile operators are taking advantage of this technology. Verizon’s 5G SuperStadium experience in the NFL app gives football fans access to multiple camera angles from the field at stadiums that are equipped with the carrier’s 5G service. Users must have an iPhone 12 to use the app and an iPhone 12 Pro or Pro Max to access the AR feature—the ability to create holomojis that allow users to project and share AR players and their stats with friends.
Popular social media apps Snapchat and TikTok have also taken advantage of LiDAR technology. In October, Snapchat began updating its Lens Studio software for AR creators to take advantage of LiDAR, with the expectation that a new wave of apps could provide highly detailed AR experiences. TikTok released a New Year’s AR experience that was similar to a ball drop in New York’s Times Square with an explosion of confetti. The company said it plans to develop more effects throughout 2021.
LiDAR uptake is likely to increase
While the use of LiDAR is not dependent on 5G, Apple has done a good job of making them go hand-in-hand, thus ratcheting up better use cases for 5G beyond faster broadband data speeds and giving consumers more reasons to buy Apple’s pricier smartphones. The company is expected to include the technology in all lines of phones in late 2021.
Apple’s move should spur the introduction of LiDAR in smartphones from rivals. Samsung had the same idea in mind back in 2017 when it introduced Project Tango on two smartphones but later it replaced the camera array with computer-vision algorithms. LiDAR technology is also not new. It’s used in self-driving cars, robotics and drones.
A large base of LiDAR-enabled smartphones could in turn offer up enhanced interactivity for a number of applications.