There are two kinds of people: those who have needed tech support, and those who constantly give it over the phone to their friends and families. Both know how tricky and complicated this process can be, but Chalk — a new AR app launching today on iOS (for free) — looks to save the day.
Built by Vuforia, the company behind the tools used by the majority of augmented-reality apps, Chalk operates much like a videoconferencing call, connecting the cameras between two remote smartphones. (It’s iOS-only to start.) The only difference is that both use the rear-facing camera, so the person getting help can show the device or software they're confused by, and the other person can draw on it.
Yes, you read that right: The instructor uses their finger — or a stylus — to draw on their own device, and make doodles that appear on the screen of the recipient's device. All the while, both users are talking to each other, as Chalk includes audio as well, so you can say "Now, click this button," or "OK, cut the red wire."
Also, if the person having things explained to them has a question, they, too, can draw in Chalk, and the app will create a doodle in a different color.
When watching doodles jump from one screen to another during a private demo of Chalk in the Tom's Guide office last week, I realized how the potential usage of this app is as wide as your imagination. Not only can Airbnb hosts use it to explain their showers and locks, for example, but I can show my parents for the 50th time how to use their new DVR.
While Chalk is free for now, the app could develop new features that would roll into a premium version. These options could include a record-and-replay option, which would be perfect for training new employees at any number of jobs.
Vuforia, which was spun out of former parent company Qualcomm, also plans to expand Chalk's availability. Although it's available only on iOS today, it should hit Android devices, as well as headsets such as the Microsoft Hololens, soon.
Chalk uses Vuforia's Fusion engine for object detection and environment scanning, and optimizes it with Apple's ARKit technology. Fusion also makes it possible for many more devices to try AR apps, because although only 34 percent of iOS devices can use ARKit, 94 percent of iOS devices can use Vuforia's Fusion for its flat-plane sensing technology, which is crucial for dropping doodles on objects.
Chalk can be downloaded here, and requires an iPhone 6s or later, an iPad Pro from 2015 or later (including the 5th Generation of the iPad), and an iOS device on iOS 11. Chalk's forthcoming Android and Windows versions will use, respectively, the ARCore and Windows Mixed Reality technologies.