Google just announced something called ARCore.

As you might've guessed, ARCore is Android’s version of Apple ARKit. It's a baked-in augmented reality platform that developers can leverage. It's different from Tango, another AR effort by Google that relies on custom hardware requirements. ARCore is less powerful than Tango, but that's okay. It's meant to be more accessible. Google said it will work with 100 million existing and upcoming devices.

Here's what you need to know.

Augmented reality (AR) isn't a new technology. But major companies are now embracing it, so everyone's talking about it. You see, while virtual reality immerses you into a space, replacing everything you see in a physical world, AR takes the world around you and adds virtual objects over it. With AR, for instance, you can look around a room with your's phone display and see a Pokemon standing in front of you.

With ARCore, Google is officially acknowledging AR and trying to make it widely accessible. ARCore is a development platform that will allow Android app developers to quickly and easily build AR experiences into their apps and games. When it's finally live this winter, it'll use your Android device's camera, processors, and motion sensors in order to serve up immersive interactions.

Google is obviously trying to compete with Apple’s ARKit. But it's been exploring AR for a while, thanks to Tango, which requires a phone with custom hardware like two extra cameras. So, with Tango, Google has been trying to figure out uses cases while determining how it could push forward AR. The answer? It'll adapt Tango for everyday consumer phones without the extra cameras.

Tango devices, like the Asus ZenFone AR, are basically old news.

But Tango isn't dead. Google's head of augmented and virtual reality, Clay Bavor, told The Verge that Google will keep striving for better cameras based on Tango technology, like a depth sensor, but these will ultimately be added to phones as just an aspect of ARCore: “I think Tango fades into the background as more an enabling technology that kind of works behind the scenes,” he explained.

ARCore has three elements: motion tracking, which figures out a phone’s location based on internal sensors and video, allowing you to pin objects and walk around them; environmental understanding, which uses a phone's camera to detect flat surfaces; and light estimation, which helps virtual objects in an AR experience have accurate shadows, and thus, fit in with their real-life surroundings.

In one demo app, Google showed how an Android mascot stands and waves in a virtual forest when a person hold's their phone to its face. It all sounds very similar to existing Apple ARKit demos floating around the internet, which you can see here. Hypothetically, developers could use ARCore to let your phone point out specific buildings or street corners or pinpoint indoor locations within a few centimeters.

Or, for example, imagine searching for a guide to your complicated treadmill, but all you have to do is take a picture of the machine, and an app could then conduct a visual search in order to identify it and overlay  instructions or serve up a YouTube video or PDF manual. This hasn't yet been invented or designed yet, but the point is: there is a tonne of potential and an unlimited number of use cases.

Yep. See Google's example here:

No. Android developers could already make AR apps without ARCore, just like iOS developers could make AR apps without ARKit. After all, before these platforms emerged, apps like Pokemon Go were available. ARCore just makes it easier for developers to add AR experiences into their apps. For instance, Google claimed that it has optimised ARCore’s performance more than an outside developer could do.

Bavor told The Verge that the level of "quality, the capability, the things it can do" will be "several levels above the other solutions out there”. Sure, experienced developers will want to use Java/OpenGL, Unity, and Unreal, but other developers - who are new to 3D design - can export ARCore objects from Google’s new Tilt Brush VR painting app or Blocks modeling tool.

Google is also releasing AR-focused experimental builds of Chromium. The first is an Android-based web browser that uses ARCore, while the second is an iOS-based one based on Apple’s ARKit.

ARCore works with Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphones, supported by Android 7.0 Nougat as well as Android Oreo. Google promised ARCore will eventually work with 100 million existing and upcoming devices, including ones from Huawei, Asus, and LG.

Google has released a preview of the ARCore software development kit (SDK), and an official launch is planned for this winter.