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.
What is augmented reality?
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.
What is ARCore?
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.
What's going to happen to Tango?
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.
How does ARCore work?
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.
Are there examples of ARCore?
Yep. See Google's example here:
Do developers need to use ARCore?
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.
Which devices work with ARCore?
ARCore is available for these phones: Google Pixel, Google Pixel XL, Google Pixel 2, Google Pixel 2 XL, Samsung Galaxy S9, Samsung Galaxy S8, Samsung Galaxy S8+, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Samsung Galaxy S7, Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, LG V30 (Android Oreo only), LG V30+ (Android Oreo only), ASUS Zenfone AR, and OnePlus 5.
Google promised ARCore will eventually work with 100 million existing and upcoming devices, including ones from Huawei, Asus, and LG. You can view a full list of supported devices from here.
When will ARCore be available?
The company's augmented reality platform, which has been in testing and limited to a handful of devices and developers for the past year, is finally now out of beta, as of February 2018. As a result of that, Google launched the 1.0 software developer kit (SDK), allowing third-party developers to more easily create AR apps for Android phones.
Also, that means, if you own one of the devices listed above, you can download the ARCore app from Google Play and begin playing with ARCore-optimised apps immediately.