Apple’s Approach to Augmented Reality Could Change Litigation

To many lawyers, Apple’s recent World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) appeared to be a bit of a yawner on first blush. The WWDC is held every year by Apple and is often fertile ground for new product and software announcements. This year, most of the attention was on the new iPad Pros: a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, slightly bigger than its 9.7-inch predecessor, and a new and improved 12.5-inch Pro model. Not much to make lawyers want to rush out and buy one, especially if you already have an iPad Pro.

However, some other announcements about augmented reality (AR) at this year’s event, combined with the power of an iPad Pro, may fundamentally change and shape how litigators go about trying to persuade and communicate with people in the future. The new technology may even benefit non-litigators.

First, there are the improvements to the iPads themselves. They have an improved and much faster A10X processor, which even beats the latest 13″ MacBook Pro. This suggests, by the way, that Apple sees the new iPads as the future of computers, and may ultimately push them as laptop replacements.

In addition, the display refresh rate was increased from 60hz to 120hz, which means what you see through the camera will be noticeably truer to life. The display has also been adjusted so it reflects less incoming light and has a much brighter backlight.

Apple also announced iOS 11, which will introduce more computing features to the iPad. You’ll be able to drag and drop more things, multitask better, and it will have a file manager that will let you look at the file contents of the iPad, much like you’ve come to expect from a desktop or laptop.

But more than that, as Rene Ritchie of the blog iMore pointed out, with the specs of the new iPads and the new OS, Apple is making the iPad a true AR device and is going all in on this approach. And, unlike Google and Microsoft, Apple’s approach is to ensure the development of apps that will allow anyone to experience AR on the iPad, without special glasses or headsets.

Apple also announced the creation of the ARKit, which gives developers a powerful foundation to build apps that use AR. ARKit will soon enable the development of apps that will let you layer a virtual world on top of the real one for games, education, navigation, and more. (Think of the AR employed in the Pokémon Go game only much better.)

And where AR’s cousin, Virtual Reality (VR) replaces everything you see by completely immersing you in a virtual world with the use of—for now, at least—clunky headsets, AR takes the world around you and lets you add virtual objects to it. For Apple, this means looking through the camera on your iPad and seeing or adding new things to the real world. This is a bit different to the approach being developed by Google and Microsft to these technologies which require special equipment to use. The beauty of the Apple approach is its simplicity and ease of use: it requires no special glasses, headsets, or hoods.

The applications for this Apple technology are nearly endless. You could point your camera at a painting and have details about the artist appear nearby, or see how furniture would look in your office before buying and moving it. IKEA has already announced an app that will let you place furniture in your house and see how it looks. ARKit will someday let you do stuff like play Star Wars chess against Jabba the Hut, see the steps you need to reboot a server, or learn geometry with shapes floating in the middle of class. Or it could show you what it might look like if a Falcon 9 rocket were to land in my swimming pool as someone recently did.

Apple is betting on developers wanting to build AR experiences for the millions of iOS users out there and offered plenty of demos during its WWDC keynote and demo areas to prove it. According to Apple, anything running iOS 11 will be able to install and run ARKit apps.

Indeed, some AR apps are already out. A new app called Holo allows you to place virtual objects in photos or videos taken on an iPhone. Here is a virtual tiger lying outside Starbucks that I added to a photo:

virtual tiger

Ok, cool. But how does this impact lawyers?

I recently co-authored an article with Jenna Wolfe about AR and VR and what some have called MR—mixed reality. These tools have advanced, or soon will advance, to where they could be employed in the courtroom as persuasive and educational devices. Some examples: allowing jurors or other fact-finders to freely walk around a virtual site of an industrial accident or presenting a “day in the life” demonstration that places jurors virtually in the room with an injured person.

The problem with this technology at this point though is the intrusive nature of it: you must convince a judge to let jurors wear special glasses or other hardware to make it work. Judges will no doubt view this with some suspicion and reluctance, at least for the time being. Some jurors may not like using the special hardware or find 3-D glasses and a headset complicated. Some may find the view afforded by the technology a bit disorienting or even nauseating.

But with the Apple approach, you can use the iPad itself to engage the AR tools without this intrusion. A lawyer could just connect his iPad to the courtroom screens and then use it to show things to the entire courtroom with the AR tools. The tools could likewise be used in mediations, negotiation and even discovery to communicate and persuade better more effectively.

With augmented reality, a lawyer could transform a scene—a destroyed building, for example—into what it once looked like. Things could be added to show where objects or people were during the event that gave rise to the litigation. A scene could be walked through and altered to show the impact of various events. An AR safety device could be added to a piece of equipment to show where and how it could work. In a medical malpractice suit, AR could show what should have been done that wasn’t or what a correct procedure looks like

All this could happen without the fact finders leaving their seats or using any special equipment. Since the step from present courtroom technology to Apple AR is not as great as trying to get a court to allow jurors to use VR headsets, AR’s acceptance and use will be much sooner and less daunting to practitioners.

I talked at some length with Bob Christie, one of the nation’s top trial lawyers and tech evangelist. Bob was describing a recent case he tried in which he was defending a police officer who shot someone trying to throw a rock at him. As it turns out, the rock thrower had thrown another rock at the officer that just missed his head. Using complicated 3-D graphics developed from grainy surveillance video, Bob’s expert created a video graphic showing how the rock looked to the cop when it was thrown at him, better re-creating the emotions of the event. While this is now complicated likely expensive to do, it would be much easier with well-developed AR apps on an iPad connected to a screen the jury could view. A similar portrayal could be made in any case where the reaction of someone to an event is important and would be instructive.

All of these uses can become powerful courtroom tools that will enable judges and juries to be able to perceive and understand the how and why of events, emotions, and even engineering. So, rather than just offering a slightly enhanced piece of hardware, Apple’s WWDC conference announcements could indeed be a game changer for how cases are tried and juries are persuaded and educated.

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