Google is bringing high-quality augmented reality to Android — and not just to one phone, or even a few, but eventually to every device running 7.0 Nougat or higher. It’s all happening through a new software development kit called ARCore, and Google spilled the details today in a blog post.
In fact, a few phones are already adopting ARCore. At Samsung’s Developer Conference, the company announced that developers would be able to use the ARCore Software Development Kit to bring augmented reality experiences to the Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S8, and Galaxy S8 Plus. That expands on previous announcements, which only noted the Galaxy S8 as being ARCore-compatible.
ARCore folds everything Google has learned over the last several years in developing its AR platform, Project Tango, into a software package that requires no special hardware to run. To date, Tango has only launched in two phones — Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro and Asus’ ZenFone AR — and that’s because it bears certain system requirements. ARCore doesn’t, and so Google says it is targeting 100 million active devices by the end of the preview phase. It is partnering with the likes of Samsung, Asus, LG, Huawei, and others to bring its ambition to reality.
“ARCore builds on Tango technology but makes AR broadly available across Android phones without having to add any additional hardware,” a Google spokesperson told Digital Trends.
What will your phone be able to do with ARCore? Google has focused on three critical elements of the AR experience in developing this SDK: motion tracking, environmental understanding, and lighting. ARCore can determine its own position and orientation in space by anchoring onto specific landmarks in a room. It can detect horizontal surfaces especially well, which is typically where AR objects are placed. It does a much better job of reading ambient lighting, so computer-generated figures are seated as seamlessly as possible in the real world.
If you happen to be one of the few people in the world who own a Project Tango device, ARCore likely isn’t going to deliver any improvements. But for the wide majority, it should significantly enhance your AR experience. When the preview went live, it was only for the Google Pixel, Pixel XL, and Samsung Galaxy S8 though now the Galaxy S8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 have been added. Developers can start tinkering with some of the tools to support ARCore right now — and there are a few Google has called attention to.
There are two 3D creation services that have been developed with ARCore in mind: Blocks and Tilt Brush. Google says they make it easy to build assets specifically for AR applications. The company has also developed a prototype desktop internet browser that can match ARCore’s capabilities, for web developers who are seeking a bit of AR functionality to add to their site. Perhaps best of all, Google says they also play nice with Apple’s AR suite, ARKit.
When asked if the birth of ARCore means the death of Tango, Google told us the public “may not see consumer-branded Tango devices moving forward … We think of Tango more and more as an enabling technology — it’s akin to GPS, where you don’t see devices or apps branded as having this technical capability.”
For everyone without a Pixel, Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus, or Galaxy Note 8, Google has launched an AR Experiments showcase to demonstrate to users how ARCore can improve their devices. With AR paving the way for the future of mobile, Google will be in an excellent position if it can deliver a high-quality, consistent integration across many different Android devices.
Update: Samsung has announced developers can use ARCore SDK for Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus, and Galaxy Note 8.