Apple outlined a variety of new features coming to iOS mobile devices this spring as part of the company's long-awaited iOS 11.3 software update, including the latest version of the ARkit augmented reality platform and Apple Business Chat, for which the company has already lined up Lowe's as a retail partner.
Along with Lowe's, beta partners supporting use of Apple Business Chat include Discover, Hilton and Wells Fargo. The Business Chat feature allows users to communicate directly with businesses via the Messages app to interact with customer service representatives, schedule appointments and even make purchases using Apple Pay.
New ARkit features allow iOS devices with the AR capability to recognize and place virtual objects on vertical surfaces like walls and doors. ARkit-enabled AR apps also will be able to more accurately map irregularly shaped surfaces like circular tables.
Communications between businesses and their clients are quickly evolving beyond e-mail to features like chatbots, though adoption of chatbots is slow in some areas. Apple appeared to be all over the next phase in the chat revolution when it first outlined plans for the Business Chat capability last June, but, while it seemed like the feature would be available in that much-hyped iOS update, it still hasn't been rolled out.
In any case, it now appears to be on the way, with Lowe's one of the first retail partners. Apple's press release, which outlined the new iOS 11.3, featured a mock-up of a Business Chat exchange between Lowe's and a customer looking for a smart lock product, and showed how the customer could move to make the purchase via Apple Pay. Even if every Business Chat exchange is not about making a purchase, though, it still has a lot of potential for enhancing communications between retailers and their customers.
Meanwhile, ARkit's new functionality comes several months after the first round of ARkit-enabled retailer apps appeared, and the company noted that with the latest upgrade, "the view of the real world through the camera now has 50% greater resolution and supports auto-focus for an even sharper perspective."
Enriching retailer AR apps with more features and functions should help these apps appeal even more to users, especially for furniture retailers like Wayfair and Ikea, whose apps are meant to give customers a fuller picture of what furniture will look like in their home. The upgrades could also lead to wider adoption of AR technology, which has, for the present time, been fairly localized within the home goods and beauty sectors.