Apple is taking advantage of a recent iOS feature called AR Quick Look to allow potential customers to see the company’s new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR at scale in augmented reality right from Apple.com on an iPhone. The ease of use, rendering, and tracking quality make it surprisingly compelling.
While no one is going to care enough to check out a 3D model of a new pair of socks before hitting the buy button, big purchases are an entirely different story. And Apple’s new Mac Pro certainly qualifies as a big purchase, starting at a cool $6,000. And while I won’t be picking one up for myself any time soon, I did get to see the product sitting in my own home thanks to an iOS AR feature.
AR Quick Look is included with iOS 12 and later, and is effectively a simple AR viewer for 3D models in Apple’s .usdz format. The feature is built into some of the native iOS applications, including Safari, which can be made to download and display .usdz files in AR with the simple click of a link.
Apple itself is leveraging ARKit and AR Quick Look to let you see the new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR up close. If you navigate to the Mac Pro page on Apple.com with a supported device, you’ll see a link that says ‘See Mac Pro in AR’. Click this and you can pull up an impressive rendering of the product and place it right in your room.
While this is surely novel, it also uniquely useful; it’s a great way to actually see the Mac Pro at its true size—something quite helpful in a world of increasingly sight-unseen online purchases. Indeed, I was surprised to find that both the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR were both considerably larger than I originally thought. Were I buying one for myself, I would have quickly realized that the Mac Pro would be better off on my floor than trying to squeeze onto my desk.
Not to mention being able to look at things from any angle (if I had a nickel for everytime a computer product page didn’t have a photo showing all the ports on the back…).
Between tracking and rendering, Apple has done a rather convincing job in the AR department. ARKit estimates scene lighting, and then bounces simulated light and color convincingly off the aluminum body of the computer. A physically-based rendering approach makes the lightning and reflections change as I walk around the virtual object. In addition to casting shadows onto the surface, in the case of the Pro Display XDR, I even saw light from the display reflected onto the table.
I’m not going to lie… when I was capturing the videos for the article, there were two separate occasions where I looked up from my phone and for a split second wondered where the computer that was just on my table had gone.
Beyond just showing what a product looks like and how big it is, this approach could also be used to show features and other selling points directly to the customer which could boost sales, especially for complex and expensive products. It would have been very cool to see how the Mac Pro case slides off to expose the inner components. In this case, these models have no animations, and it doesn’t sound like animations are well supported with the .usdz format at this time, but it does seem like a natural next step.
Beyond that, it’s the form-factor of the AR device that will really push this sort of AR use-case from novel to expected—with always-on headsets, it’ll be significantly faster, easier, and more immersive to view virtual objects inside your real world.