XR Talks is a weekly series that features the best presentations and educational videos from the XR universe. It includes embedded video, as well as narrative analysis and top takeaways. 

One of the areas that represents potential AR killer apps is social interaction. We’ve seen its potential with Snapchat AR Lenses. But that just scratches the surface because they’re asynchronous: Augmentation happens to recorded media that’s shared then consumed.

The real magic could conversely happen with synchronous AR: augmentation happens at the moment of social interaction or co-collaboration. But that requires solving some sticky technical challenges such as image persistence. Google took a big step in that direction at I/O.

Its new Cloud Anchors let ARCore developers build apps that have synchronous, multi-player AR functionality. They work similar to ARcore and ARkit’s scene mapping in that they establish anchor points for graphics. But now it shares and syncs anchor points between multiple devices.

“The way we would do it in an AR app today is plant [graphics] as relative offsets from an anchor and that becomes your reference frame,” said Google’s James Birney. “Anchors can’t talk to each other so this is what cloud anchor solves…We can have a common anchor in the middle.”

Notably, cloud anchors operate across Android and iOS. ARCore developers integrate it, then their app users can share experiences with iPhone users. It’s unclear what iPhone users need to join a given session (the same app?) and how frictionless it is, but this is nonetheless a positive step.

“Cloud anchors work on any ARCore-enabled Android device and any ARkit-enabled device,” said Birney. “There’s no reason that we should discriminate which of our friends can play a game with us based on which operating system they run on their phone.”

This makes sense in early days of mobile AR adoption. Google knows that already-challenged usage growth will be further hobbled by platform fragmentation. So this is a necessary move to seed mobile AR usage and bring it closer to ubiquity, where/when Google will monetize it.

Speaking of monetization, there are use cases Google has in mind beyond fun and games. As Amazon and IKEA have already done, AR will be a practical and monetizable tool for in-home product visualization. Multi-player functionality can add new dimension to such scenarios.

“If I’m placing a speaker system here, I can have my wife also look at [it] from her phone,” said Birney. “There’s a certain feeling of consistency and trust if you’re the advertiser or ecommerce site if you have two users looking at it, and it shows up consistently for both of them.”

See the video below. Also note that Apple’s WWDC is next week, where rumors indicate it will likewise announce multi-player support in ARkit. We’ll see if it follows suit and is interoperable with Cloud Anchors (likely not). Either way, these will be important developer tools to advance AR.

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