Can Apple’s Room Plan Bring Visual Commerce to Local Businesses?

One of the most hotly anticipated tech products these days is Apple’s rumored smart glasses. Within the AR world, the thought is that Apple’s classic halo effect will mainstream the still-nascent technology and raise all boats… as it once did with PCs, smartphones, and tablets.

Leading up to the recent WWDC, this anticipation reached a fever pitch as rumors swirled that this could finally be AR glasses’ “iPhone moment.” But sure enough, it didn’t happen. The underlying tech and broader consumer culture aren’t ready for AR glasses, and Apple knows it.

But the AR world’s disappointment about smart glasses in the wake of WWDC has overshadowed the fact that there were notable AR developments at the event. Besides subtle signals throughout, Apple announced a new mobile room-scanning tool known as RoomPlan that could democratize AR creation.

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The First Step

Specifically, Room Plan is an API that could enable new visually immersive use cases in real estate, design, or architecture apps. For example, interior design apps can integrate RoomPlan to let their users visualize wall colors to inform the right shade (and amount) of paint.

The end-user experience involves scanning one’s room using a LiDAR-equipped iPhone. That guided experience (see video below) then outputs a 3D model of a given room. And that basic framework opens the door for the use cases noted above and several others that will develop.

As Apple puts it, “The framework inspects a device’s camera feed and LiDAR readings and identifies walls, windows, openings, and doors. [It] also recognizes room features, furniture, and appliances — a fireplace, bed, or refrigerator — and provides that information to the app.”

Apple also refers to Room Plan as “the first step in architecture and interior design workflows to help streamline conceptual exploration and planning.” The next step is for developers to integrate the RoomPlan API and take it in other creative directions in real estate and home services.

The ultimate goal here is that 3D scanning for physical spaces, previously reserved for deeper-pocketed tech players, is brought to startups and app developers. It could also boost the functionality of existing tools for home projects, such as Houzz’s new AR renovation tool.

Dimensionally Appropriate

But one question that emerges from all of the above is why this underlying framework is necessary, and what value is Apple adding here? The answer is that AR doesn’t “just work” without a few complex components in place, including dimensional maps of a given space.

Of course, there’s rudimentary AR like early versions of Pokémon Go, but those are more “floating stickers” than AR. But for AR’s true promise, graphics should hide behind trees or remain at a fixed distance while real-life people walk in front or behind them, as dimensionally appropriate.

That brings us back to room scanning. The idea is that spaces are scanned for geometric and semantic understanding. The former is all about dimension, while the latter is all about context. It’s about knowing that a window is a window and a wall is a wall, as noted by Apple.

But RoomPlan isn’t without its limitations. One is that it requires LiDAR-equipped iOS devices. For those unfamiliar, LiDAR creates detailed digital scans of a given space by calculating the round trip of light beams. It’s necessary for RoomPlan, but it’s only available in high-end iOS devices.

That could be resolved as LiDAR phases in to the entire iOS lineup over the next few cycles. That time will be needed for RoomPlan to get picked up, integrated, and released into the wild. As those factors push forward in concert, Room Plan could make its mark on local home services.

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Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at mikebo.land.