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The iPad Pro can scan your house, and future iPhones might too

by Denise Keegan (2020-07-24)

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A 3D room scan from Occipital's Canvas app, enabled by depth-sensing lidar on the iPad Pro. Imagine this on iPhones next.

It's been a few months since Apple's AR-enhanced iPad Pro became available, but relatively few AR apps have taken advantage of the device's new lidar depth sensor so far. That rear sensor could be a sneak preview of the tech that makes its way into the next iPhones, which means that early iPad Pro apps could offer a window into what territory Apple ventures into next. With Apple's remote WWDC developer conference approaching next week, Apple will likely place great emphasis on new AR tools. Occipital's new house-scanning app, Canvas, may be the clearest indicator of what's to come for a next wave of depth-enhanced apps. Occipital is a Boulder, Colorado-based company that's made depth-sensing camera hardware and software for years, similar to the type of tech that used to be on Google's early Tango tablets and phones. Occipital's Structure camera could measure depth in a room, combined with image capture, and build a 3D-mapped mesh of a space. In the years since, companies such as (recently acquired by Pokemon Go maker Niantic) have figured out ways to measure and map space without extra depth-sensing hardware at all. Occipital has since moved to a software-based approach for its scanning tools.

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Occipital's latest Canvas app uses regular iPhone and iPad cameras to mesh and map rooms quickly. But the company is also adding in support for Apple's iPad Pro lidar sensor because of its extra depth-sensing range. The company sees the extra depth data adding to the tools it already has.

It's likely that few developers have singled out the iPad Pro's distinct lidar depth sensors because the 2020 iPad Pro models are a relatively small subset of all of Apple's AR-ready devices. As that depth-sensing tech expands across the line to phones and other iPads, it's likely that what Occipital is pursuing will happen with other companies, too. "It's a reasonably good assumption that you're going to start seeing this on higher end iPhones as well," Occipital's Product Manager Alex