Google’s Tango AR platform is clunky and not very useful. It’s made its way to two phones to date: the mammoth that is the Lenovo Phab2 Pro and the weird-yet-handsome-looking Asus ZenFone AR. We reviewed both, and the experience was generally the same: it’s cool for five minutes until you realize it’s draining your battery like crazy. Therefore, we never really saw any convenience or useful factor in the technology since the only good apps would place furniture around your house. And since the phones need a special array of cameras to do so, it just doesn’t seem worth it in the end.
The fact that special cameras have to be used for Tango also didn’t help the effort Google had to get the technology into more smartphones. Most manufacturers weren’t going to build an array of cameras for one function of the phone to work without having a clear benefit. Lenovo and Asus basically built simple showcases for the technology in the forms of phones, and guess what? They’re performing like simple showcases on the market.
So how do you resolve this problem? How do you balance reaching your original goals with Tango and AR without having to do the whole “build a dedicated camera array into this thing” project? Enter ARCore.
Via a blog post, Google has announced ARCore, a new SDK similar to Apple’s ARKit. It allows a broader range of smartphones to use their already-built-in camera and array of sensors for interacting with augmented reality content. Essentially, Google is bringing its AR and VR teams together to create this technology while integrating all the perks you get with a dedicated camera array and Tango.
With ARCore, your phone will be able to track motion, understand your environment, and estimate what the light levels are surrounding you. It can’t track depth like Tango could, but most AR experiences proved not to use that feature anyhow. Google will also be integrating its Visual Positioning Service (VPS) into ARCore to “enable world scale AR experiences well beyond a tabletop.” With the new SDK, developers will be able to build different experiences for users to enjoy without limiting themselves to devices with necessary hardware. In fact, by the time ARCore is out of testing (likely Winter 2017), Google estimates more than 100 million Android users will have access to the technology.
Speaking of which, users of Google’s Pixel and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 can now give ARCore a try on their devices. Google notes they’re working with manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, Asus, and others to provide compatibility and verification of the technology on upcoming devices. It’ll work on both devices running Android Oreo and last year’s Nougat. Of course, you’ll likely need a recent high-end phone to enjoy the full experience of ARCore, but you could, in theory, even pick up one of last year’s flagships at a discount to enjoy the technology.