Smartphones need a new pie-in-the-sky feature to shoot for, or else people will start questioning why these handheld supercomputers become “obsolete” after only two years. And right now the new space to innovate in when it comes to mobile is virtual and augmented reality features. Not only do they require a ton of pricey new tech, but they are also legitimately cool. Just ask HoloLens users and Pokemon Go players.
To help augmented reality become a new standard, it needs to be part of the fundamental functionality of the mobile device. Manufacturers need to consider hardware like room-scanning cameras as well as software that can perform the calculations to make fake things believably appear in the real world. At WWDC Apple already showed off its ARKit AR development tools for iOS devices, so of course, its Android rivals are following suit. ARCore is Google’s new answer to augmented reality.
Google is no stranger to augmented reality, but its experiments so far haven’t quite reached critical mass. The Project Tango augmented reality platform, while promising, found its way onto few phones. And we all dodged a cyborg discrimination bullet ever since Google Glass first failed to become a thing.
So what makes ARCore any different? Well for starters it’s a continuation of the cool ideas from Project Tango. But it requires fewer special hardware features. So while it’s currently only compatible with Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8, running Android 7.0 Nougat or better, Google wants to reach 100 million Android phones and tablets across all manufacturers by the end of the development preview.
Since this is a tool for developers right now most of the details we know about ARCore are more technical. It runs on familiar engines like Java/OpenGL, Unity, and Unreal. It tracks the position and movement of the phone itself to keep virtual objects properly oriented. It understands environments as well and can even estimate ambient light to pull off neat tricks like projecting realistic fake shadows.
The ARCore SDK is available to developers starting now. Google provides some rudimentary apps like Blocks and Tilt Brush for creating AR content, as well as positioning services for more global AR experiences, but it will be even more exciting to see what the Android development community at large can pull off with this support. Regular reality is pretty bad these days. So we might as…