Google declined to comment. However, the company is trying to tackle the fragmentation issue. Project Treble, unveiled in May, re-designed Android to make it faster and cheaper for manufacturers to update devices.

Still, requiring Android hardware makers to adhere to strict standards for their phone cameras is a particularly big hurdle, according to Matt Miesnieks, a partner at VR and AR investment firm Super Ventures. He used to work at Samsung Electronics Co., the largest Android phone manufacturer. Apple, meanwhile, designs its own hardware and software into only one phone, so it can develop cameras to match ARKit’s exact requirements.

“The reason Android can’t compete with ARKit is that the original equipment manufacturers would need to effectively standardize their camera” systems, Miesnieks said.

After an early push with Tango and the struggles of the Google Glass head-mounted display, the search giant’s AR efforts seem to have taken a back seat to other priorities for now. Glass is no longer available for consumers to buy, and Tango remains on just two handsets.

For Apple, ARKit is the foundation for a later, but larger push into AR-infused devices. The company has a team of engineers working on smart glasses, Bloomberg News has reported, and the next iPhone will likely include front- and rear-facing 3-D sensors when it’s released later this year, analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and others have predicted.

“The first step in making it a mainstream kind of experience is to put it in the operating system,” Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told Bloomberg News in a June interview. “This has a runway. And it’s an incredible runway. It’s time to put the seat belt on and go.”

3-D Sensors

A 3-D sensor would permit improved accuracy when placing virtual objects in a real environment. That is essential for e-commerce applications in particular, said Ari Bloom, CEO of Avametric, a maker of AR tools for the fashion industry.

“It’s super important that, if you’re going to present something for sale to a customer that you show it extremely accurately,” Bloom said, adding that doing so reduces costly product returns.

Apple gave Ikea Group early access to ARKit. The furniture giant’s existing AR tool, which lets customers see how sofas and wardrobes might look in their homes, was built by Metaio GmbH, an AR startup Apple acquired in 2015. After the deal, many of Metaio’s software tools stopped being available to developers. They’re showing up again now.

“It’s been closed for two-and-a-half years,” said AR developer Guler. “What they’ve released now is a major, major update. I never saw anything close to this before.”

By Alex Webb