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Can Apple keep the AR industry alive?

Augmented reality still has Apple’s enthusiasm behind it, but can that keep the whole industry afloat?

On Wednesday, Apple debuted a new iPad Pro, the hallmark feature of which was a lidar time-of-flight sensor baked into the camera, which is designed to make augmented reality experiences more realistic and immersive. For most potential users, the inclusion is something of an oddity. Consumer AR apps are few and far between, and Apple has also been slow to bring AR functionality into its own stock apps.

For the AR industry, the hardware inclusion amounts to an industry gift, signaling once again that Apple is still committed to making an augmented reality future happen.

The company’s ARKit development platform has brought out some interesting use cases, but app developers have scored few resounding victories. The reasons why increasingly seem to have little to do with individual technical features of the development platform or camera hardware. Apple can keep improving both, but without some concerted integrations of AR functionality into the core of iOS or iPadOS, it’s unclear whether these little developer-focused feature bumps will make a dent. Consumers just don’t see anything they want yet.

AR startups have already been struggling and hardware efforts have largely cratered. The software platforms have had some success building what Apple hasn’t or won’t for niche enterprise customers, but as the economic realities shift, all bets are off.

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