Managing Session Lifecycle and Tracking Quality

Make your AR experience more robust by providing clear feedback, recovering from interruptions, and resuming previous sessions.


World-tracking AR sessions use a technique called visual-inertial odometry. This process combines motion sensor data with computer vision analysis of camera imagery to track the device's pose (position and orientation in real-world space, expressed in the ARCamera transform property). For best results, world tracking needs consistent sensor data and camera imagery with visual complexity or recognizable features.

When you start a session, it takes some time for ARKit to gather enough data to precisely model device pose. During a session, the conditions that affect world-tracking quality can change. Use ARSessionObserver delegate methods and ARCamera properties to follow these changes.

Basic Lifecycle of an AR Session

The figure below shows the changes in tracking state when you start running an AR session.

Sequence diagram with ARKit tracking state proceeding from notAvailable to limited (initializing) to normal.

Immediately after you run a new session, the tracking state for provided frames is ARCamera.TrackingState.notAvailable, indicating that ARKit has not yet gathered enough information to estimate the device’s pose.

A few frames later, the tracking state changes to, indicating that a device pose is available but its accuracy is uncertain. A limited state always includes a reason for reduced tracking quality; in this case, the session is still ARCamera.TrackingState.Reason.initializing.

After a short time, the tracking state changes to ARCamera.TrackingState.normal, indicating that the device pose is accurate and all ARKit features are available.

Provide Feedback for Tracking Quality Changes

The figure below shows changes in tracking state that can occur due to user interaction or changes in the environment.

Sequence diagram with ARKit tracking state proceeding from normal to limited (insufficient features) and back to normal.

When tracking quality is, features that depend on ARKit mapping the user's local environment are not available:

  • Plane detection does not add or update plane anchors

  • Hit-testing methods provide no results

A session can enter a tracking state at any time, based on changes in the user's local environment or the user moving the device. For example, if the user points the device at a blank wall, or the lights in the room go out, tracking quality may be reduced due to ARCamera.TrackingState.Reason.insufficientFeatures.

Use the associated ARCamera.TrackingState.Reason value to provide feedback that guides the user to resolving the situation so that the tracking state can return to ARCamera.TrackingState.normal.

Recover from Session Interruptions

ARKit can't track device pose without a running ARSession. By default, if your session is interrupted (for example, by switching to another app), any virtual content in that session is likely out of place relative to the real-world environment.

You can use relocalization to try to recover from an interruption. If you return true from the sessionShouldAttemptRelocalization(_:) method, ARKit attempts to reconcile its knowledge of the user's environment from before the interruption with current camera and sensor data. During this process, the tracking state is (with ARCamera.TrackingState.Reason.relocalizing as the reason). If successful, the tracking state returns to ARCamera.TrackingState.normal after a short time.

Sequence diagram with normal tracking state before the session is interrupted, then, after the interruption, proceeding from notAvailable to limited (initializing) to limited (relocalizing) to normal.

For relocalization to succeed, the device must be returned to a position and orientation near where it was when the session was interrupted. If these conditions never occur (for example, if the device has moved to an entirely different environment), the session remains in the ARCamera.TrackingState.Reason.relocalizing state indefinitely.

Create a Persistent AR Experience

In iOS 12.0 and later, the ARWorldMap class stores the information that ARKit uses to resume a session. By saving a world map to a file, you can use the same relocalization process either to recover from a brief interruption or to resume from an earlier session, even if your app has relaunched. World maps include anchors, so you can also replace virtual content to match an earlier session.

Sequence diagram with normal tracking state, saving a world map before the app closes. Upon relaunching the app and loading the saved map, tracking state proceeds from notAvailable to limited (initializing) to limited (relocalizing).

To allow the user to come back to the same AR session after leaving your app, you might save the world map explicitly upon a user action, or automatically in applicationDidEnterBackground(_:). Save the world map only if your AR session has state worth saving—for example, if the user has placed virtual objects whose positions you want to remember, and the session is in the ARFrame.WorldMappingStatus.mapped state (or has been in that state at least once during the session).

To relocalize to a saved world map, use the initialWorldMap property when running a session. Like when resuming from an interruption, the session starts in the (ARCamera.TrackingState.Reason.relocalizing) tracking state. If ARKit can reconcile the world map with the current environment, the tracking state becomes ARCamera.TrackingState.normal after a short time, indicating that the session matches the recorded world map.

A session resumed from a world map includes all anchors saved in that world map. If you use the name property to identify virtual objects you've placed anchors for, you can refer to the anchors in the resumed session to recreate that virtual content. To ensure that such content is placed correctly, display it only after the session's tracking state changes to ARCamera.TrackingState.normal.

If ARKit cannot reconcile the recorded world map with the current environment (for example, if the device is in an entirely different place from where the world map was recorded), the session remains in the ARCamera.TrackingState.Reason.relocalizing state indefinitely. Provide users with a way to restart the session in case they can't resume it. To give up on world map relocalization, call run(_:options:) on the session again, with the resetTracking option and a configuration whose initialWorldMap is nil.

See Also

User Experience

Handling 3D Interaction and UI Controls in Augmented Reality

Follow best practices for visual feedback, gesture interactions, and realistic rendering in AR experiences.

SwiftShot: Creating a Game for Augmented Reality

See how Apple built the featured demo for WWDC18, and get tips for making your own multiplayer games using ARKit, SceneKit, and Swift.