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New AR apps for iOS 11 probably won’t look too good on your old iPhones

Your older iPhones might struggle with the new AR apps on iOS 11.

When Apple teased the latest version of its mobile software platform earlier this week at its WWDC event, it confirmed one of our biggest predictions for the company’s direction going forward: iOS 11 will come with a new focus on augmented reality.

Apple’s making a push to get everyone involved in its AR plans with ARKit, a new platform that will look to give the development community a toolkit to foster the growth of apps focused on the new functionality.

Thing is, the new AR functions won’t be available on every single Apple device with a screen. iOS 11 won’t be supported by iPhone 5 and below, so anyone still holding on to their 2012 tech won’t be upgrading their five year old phone anyway. But according to the ARKit developers page, even some devices that can handle the upgrade to 11 could still be left out in the lurch, stuck in just our standard version of reality.

The ARKit platform is only available on devices with Apple’s A9 and A10 processors — and presumably, the A11 chip expected in the iPhone 8. That means that iOS devices with less powerful processors, most made before 2015 like the iPhone 6, could have some trouble running the new AR apps built using the platform.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the new apps won’t work at all on the older phones, as other publications have trumpeted — they might just be slowed down a bit. Some language in the ARKit guidelines discusses the distinctions between devices with A9 chips and "other devices" still supported by the platform, suggesting that the apps will work on older iPhones and iPads.

Image: screenshot/apple

We spoke to some app developers familiar with iOS to clarify exactly what that language could mean. They said that it sounds like all iOS 11 compatible devices will be able to run the apps, but the experience will be worse. One developer told us it could be up to Apple. "If Apple limits a framework to specific architectures," they said, "then it can only be run on those [more advanced processors]. Usually it’s due to hardware limitations."

Attempts to reach Apple for clarification weren’t answered at press time, so we don’t know for sure.

If you’re not sold on the idea of Apple’s AR, just head to Twitter to check out the videos being posted left and right by developers toying around with the closed beta. They’re only just starting to test out the software’s capabilities, but the results are pretty impressive.

Recorded straight from my phone last night. (Apple’s New ARKit + Unity + Overwatch) Have never seen tracking like this.

— Cody Brown (@CodyBrown) June 7, 2017

Will AR drive you to upgrade from that beat up iPhone 6 you’re still lugging around? You’ll still probably be able to get in on at least some of the fun — but for the best AR experience, you’re going to need the newest, most powerful processor available.