Apple took us on a surreal walk through San Francisco, looking at digital art on an iPhone

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San Francisco looks different through an iPhone XS Max — it’s still a city, but now there are floating balls of fabric, speech bubbles, and words popping out from the trees and buildings.

For more than two hours on Sunday, I ambled through the streets of San Francisco, taking in several art pieces scattered around the city by Apple. But the art wasn’t actually physically on the ground — instead, it was digital art, mere 1s and 0s, attached to several significant locations around the city, and viewed through the camera and display of an Apple iPhone.

The walk, which launched on Saturday, is a new program at Apple stores called “AR[T],” which is a play on words on augmented reality, a technology that uses cameras and machine learning to place digital objects in the real world. Apple has developed software for iPhones called ARKit. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called the technology “big and profound.”

The hope among technologists is that augmented reality can be the next big computing platform, and companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are also investing heavily in augmented reality technologies.

“I think in AR’s early days when it’s still trying to find its footing, user traction and killer apps, these types of organized initiatives by tech giants can slowly push the ball forward,” Mike Boland, chief analyst of ARtillery Intelligence said. “Apple is particular has invested a lot in AR and is banking certain parts of its future hardware lineup on AR, so these ARt walks are both a move to accelerate AR traction and to continue feeling out the demand signals and what will resonate with consumers.”

“I have been working in augmented reality for the past 3 years and I am convinced it will be the medium in which we will experience most of the arts in the future,” said graffiti artist Sebastian Errazuriz, who was not involved in the project with Apple, but who has made similar public art in augmented reality.

“Augmented reality will prove to be as huge an invention as electricity. We will all live augmented reality lives,” he continued.

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