I initially held off on discussing any of the new ARKit developed apps when iOS 11 launched for one main reason - I couldn’t actually use most of them! My iPhone 6 was hanging by a thread as I waited out the X whilst my iPad Air 2 is doing just fine and I have no plans to upgrade it any time soon. Neither of them could run the vast majority of the ARKit apps though as they simply weren’t powerful enough. Now I have the iPhone X, I have finally been able to dig into these new offerings though.
To be honest, I’ve been a little disappointed so far with the range of educational ARKit apps, though it is early days of course. When you look at the depth and quality afforded by established AR apps like ZooKazam, NASA's Spacecraft 3D or Curiscope's Virtuali-Tee, there really isn’t much on that level yet in this new generation. Don’t get me wrong - the way these new apps function (i.e. without triggers and much more stable rendering of the models) is definitely impressive, I just hope 2018 will see more depth and detail to the educational AR offerings.
That being said, one new app has really impressed me already and that’s JigSpace. It’s been referred to as the evolution of Wikipedia/ WikiHow and I can see why. Jigspace offers a bank of AR experiences with an educational focus, categorised by topics – Science, Machines, Space and even History, which is great to see included! It also has a special “how-to” category which contains an eclectic bank of AR guides to things like assembling an office chair, reverse parallel parking and even building some Lego Star Wars models! The range is good and expanding regularly but is the quality of the experiences that really makes JigSpace stand out.
Each experience is tagged to a surface and the model appears in crisp, detailed 3D. There is no lag or drop here thanks to ARkit and you are free to move around the model and get closer or further away as desired. The touch screen can also be used to resize the model, making it easy to accomodate within a busy classroom environment with multiple users. Take a look at this screenshot where I have shrunk down a model of the printing press to sit on my laptop:
What elevates these educational experiences is that they are more than just models to be viewed. In fact they work more like AR presentations, with on-screen navigation buttons allowing you to move through a series of stages for each model, watching it animate to explain or elaborate a concept.
Each step is accompanied with text labels, essentially turning the model into an augmented diagram. It’s a great way to share content and an evolution of traditional AR learning apps that just produce a 3D model. One thing I have already fed back to them is that it would be great if audio could be embedded to accompany each stage, allowing younger students to access the content more readily. Hopefully that will come.
One thing that they do have in the works is their Jig Workshop which promises to allow users to create their own experiences for use with the app. This sounds really exciting and could be a brilliant addition to the classroom. I’m not sure where teachers would get the various stages of each model from but even being able to edit or remix the existing models would be cool. Teachers would be able to edit the text level to simplify if needed or even embed questions related to the labels. I’m definitely intrigued to try this when it becomes available.