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With Amazon’s AR mobile app, you don’t need a depth-sensing camera to sense depth

When Amazon announced its new augmented reality (AR) mobile app for iOS last week, it stressed visual issues and said it allowed shoppers “to make sure [a desired product] fits their style and aesthetic.” But the much bigger news is that it also makes sure products fit in the space intended — and it doesn’t need a depth-sensing phone to do that. Sorry, iPhone X.

From one perspective, there is little new here in this app; the ability to take potential purchases and superimpose them on real-world images has been around for years, with home improvement chains taking the lead. But what Amazon is claiming goes well beyond what others have done, and it does it in an environment (the Amazon app) where the shopper is already comfortable.

The hardest part of this AR effort is not getting precise dimensions of the object being sold — presumably, the supplier has already delivered that — but instead is determining the precise measurements of everything else in the room. That’s the only way to determine if a refrigerator will truly fit in the intended space and whether it will work when its bottom drawer is fully extended.

From an email exchange with an Amazon manager, who asked that her name not be used: “AR view uses Apple’s ARKit. ARKit gives us the scale of the room or surface. It can detect surfaces and how large those surfaces are. Our models are dimension accurate and precise. The 3D capabilities of phones have no bearing on this feature.”

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