Google Announces a New Augmented Reality Platform for Android

Posted on August 29, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 32 Comments

In what appears to be a belated response to Apple’s ARKit, Google today announced AR Core, its second take on an Android-based augmented reality platform.

“With more than two billion active devices, Android is the largest mobile platform in the world,” Google’s Dave Burke notes. “And for the past nine years, we’ve worked to create a rich set of tools, frameworks and APIs that deliver developers’ creations to people everywhere. Today, we’re releasing a preview of a new software development kit (SDK) called ARCore. It brings augmented reality capabilities to existing and future Android phones. Developers can start experimenting with it right now.”

As you may recall, Google previously offered an AR platform called Project Tango, and the first of only a handful of Tango-compatible devices, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, shipped in November 2016.

The problem with Tango, of course, is that device makers needed to specifically design their hardware to support this technology. So Google, finally, is addressing that major limitation with its AR Core mulligan: It will not require any special hardware.

“ARCore works without any additional hardware, which means it can scale across the Android ecosystem,” Burke says. “ARCore will run on millions of devices, starting today with the Pixel and Samsung’s S8, running 7.0 Nougat and above. We’re targeting 100 million devices at the end of the preview. We’re working with manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and others to make this possible with a consistent bar for quality and high performance.”

ARCore focuses on three core capabilities: Motion tracking, environmental understanding, and light estimation. (Apple’s core capabilities for ARKit include those, plus scale estimation.)

The results, based on the demo video, are pretty impressive. As important, it looks about as good as Apple’s ARKit or Microsoft’s HoloLens with regards to realistically blending the artificial with the real.

And that’s a problem. For both Apple and Microsoft. As I noted early this year in Microsoft Just Lost the Augmented Reality Wave (Premium), “AR makes the most sense is out in the real world. And companies like Google and Apple already make the popular mobile platforms found in our smartphones … that we take out into the real world every day. So they are able to leverage this success to drive AR adoption and usage. And do so in a way that will be more desirable to actual users.”

And that is exactly what Apple, and now Google, are doing.

Game over for Microsoft? Obviously.

 

Tagged with ,

Join the discussion!

BECOME A THURROTT MEMBER:

Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Register
Comments (32)

32 responses to “Google Announces a New Augmented Reality Platform for Android”

  1. david.thunderbird

    Cain't say didn't got nuttin from da tinman.

  2. Tony Barrett

    I'm still not convinced at all by AR/VR, but where it makes some small amount of sense for the occasional dabble (as with Google Cardboard) is on a mobile device you already own, and Google and Apple have billions of them out there to chose from, with very, very active developers. Very, very few will step up and spend hundreds of dollars/pounds of dedicated VR/AR hardware (only hardcore gamers and pro markets). Again, Hololens was an interesting lab experiment, but failed in all other respects. MS have once again roped in their ever faithfull OEM's to develop a raft of cheaper, less capable devices, but your average consumer will *never* buy them.

  3. leonzandman

    "And that’s a problem. For both Apple and Microsoft."


    Nope, it's a problem for Microsoft. Apple will do just fine and probably will also have the better apps/experience. It's amazing to see the innovative things developer came up with when ARKit was released. HoloLens has been out for several years and I always see the same types of apps. Most of them only demo-ware. Great that Google seems to be catching up now too. But Microsoft...

  4. Ugur

    "Game over for Microsoft? Obviously."


    Sorry Paul, but this article is misguided. Now where you are right is, that, well, MS is misguided right now, too and so their chances are low due to that.

    But where your article is wrong is that it paints a picture like the tech industry and any sub sector of it was like a football or other sports game with a set match duration so at one point if one is late to the match, one would have automatically lost it forever.

    that already would be nonsense. There are more than enough examples for where a contender showd up years after the competition in a field and yet managed to dominate the market for many years then by having a considerably more convincing total package.

    Then it is even further and more nonsense to see it like hey, in MS case, they basically loose in a field as soon as the competition just shows up.

    Or hey, like in this case, it is even already enough when a contender only shows up with a tangentially related thing, doesn't even have to be the same category.


    Like, what?!?!


    Sorry, this is utter nonsense and i expect more and better from you =)


    The hololens, despite, yes, also sorta comparable AR/MR, is a very different category and class of device than phone based AR.

    And that Apple and Google offer their own AR sdks now does not automatically invalidate standalone AR headsets.

    The contrary, Apple and Google are actually behind MS still.

    They still have to actually present/release their standalone headgear AR devices.

    And that many more will now make phone based AR apps than before there were sdks from the platform holders would not automatically lead to standalone AR headsets by Google and Apple automatically winning or dominating or even just selling tons at all either once they release them.


    See Apple and Google/Android dominating in phones and yet neither the Apple watch nor Android wear nor Google Glass did exactly take off blockbuster style so far.

    A winner or dominating force in one category does not automatically guarantee them doing just as great in another.


    It is just a very different category of device that will actually require separate apps made for it or existing apps to be modified a good bit. And it will also require quite different hardware, yes, it will share some sensors etc, but also have major differences in other aspects.


    One will be able to repurpose a good part of it, but still, once you wear it on your face, you will need hand detection or separate controllers and have to change the whole input part for that, just as one example.

    Various other things regarding what you can see/can't see, can control well/can't control well when the device is on your head instead of on your phone screen will be different and will have to be taken into consideration, too.


    And btw, i made phone based AR stuff for many years, so neither Google nor Apple are first to the party.

    In fact Apple just bought their way in by buying up several companies who did stuff in these fields many years ago.


    Don't get me wrong, that there are platform wide official platform sdks now is a great step forward i totally support and embrace and i already work on ARKit stuff and will work on Android AR Core stuff, too. And there are many fields where phone based AR can be awesome, too, and will be.

    But those are not neccessary the same, all or even close to the exact same fields where head worn AR can excel, so there will totally be room for both.

    Just as one very basic example: How often would i like to use phone based AR while in the car or on my bike?

    Or just doing any motion involving activity?

    And note, while many of the ARKit demo vids on twitter right now are very cool as gimmicky teaser video, how many of those would you actually really like to use day to day?

    And in how many of those would it still be just as cool when you consider seriously you have to hold the phone in front of you constantly and can only see the ar action on that small phone screen which is really small when you hold it quite the distance away from your eyes.

    I find it fascinating how the tech writers are so eager to be first to say what will become big, and hey, while VR was hyped up many tech writers wanted to be first to tell all the world how it will be totally the biggest thing now, and now that only 1-a few million VR devices were sold in year 1 instead of however many they'd like it to be, now we can all talk about it faild and i called it out first!!! and with most overblown clickbaity article!!! Oh man, have you seen that techcrunch "article" on it!! How excellently clickbaity trash it was!

    and now, i tell you, AR will be the biggest thing ever, like in 11 days (you'll know why i state that timeframe soon ;-) )


    The reality is both VR and AR will be big in many ways in the future but the reality is also it will take quite some years for these to fully come into their own and we're in very early baby step days right now and yes, it will take several hardware iterations, i'd expect at least 5 more.


    MS came in from the high end device end regarding what is possible with current tech and now tries to get it more affordable and more appealing to average users.

    They even way overshot as they often do by pushing for having iteration 1 be above phone quality and at the same time not be tethered to a desktop pc, hence the result is now it is disappointing because it now went with a setup where one has a mailslot view and not the highest specs or battery life etc either and an extreme price when one does not consider one has a full pc in front of the eyes.

    And even when one considers that, well, 3k is a lot of money to all regular average joes and janes.

    Apple came in from the low end and tries to push it on their phones until they have standalone glasses etc.

    Google tried it first with devices with more sensors and now tries the Apple route, since, well, it will take time until way more devices have those extra sensors.

    Though i would not be surprised at all if the next iPhone shown in a few days has some of those, too.

    Still, there are still some very interesting years ahead of us with lots of progress on many ends, by many players, there is even totally still room in this field for some currently totally unknown player to make it huge.


    Giving up when the race has just started in a sector would be for loosers.




    And to paint a picture like one company has lost just because competition has shown up at all, well, is just a looser view.

    We wouldn't have the iPhone and iPad if Apple gave up because they were nearly bankrupt and MS had presented a tablet pc earlier and others had made phones earlier.


    The tech industry goes on forever (unless mankind kills itself off) and so the race is infinite and the potential areas to succeed virtually unlimited and it is really at best about being dominating for more than 2 years, after that all bets are off and the race totally open to all all the time.


    If Apple would release 3 lamo phones in a row and others would release 3 awesome devices in a row, things can pretty quickly turn around.




    Now, after all this, i come to the sides where we probably agree more again: That is: MS often has awesome stuff in their labs, and sometimes, rarely, even releases them in some form without completely butchering it of all the potential.


    But then they too often botch the release and don't have the balls to push through fully and in the ways needed and long enough and full force enough and in right way enough, and often enough on top mess it up by wanting to force UWP or some other nonsense onto people together with the device.

    Then it does not work out in year 1-3 and then they usually either try it with nonsense like cheapo crappy dumping price market share grab attempts or cancel out of the race in that category entirely.

    Those are all looser moves.


    But hey, MS still has a chance there. If they release a hololens 2 within a year for 500-1000 with large field of view and a few killer apps in each category and allow full desktop x86 apps/games on it, too, millions of people would still buy that even if the iPhone has fancy phone camera AR.


    But yeah, MS has to wake up and move at fast pace and do some right moves for once.


    It's all fine and dandy to make some eye catching promo/bullshot videos up front, but yeah, a year or two later at latest, you gotta deliver and deliver well.


    If MS sleeps past this chance again until Apple, Google, Magic Leap or whoever else releases kickass AR glasses, yeah, then we can talk about them having missed their chance for at least a few iterations for this category.


    Right now, they can still get some thing going in this field if they'd for once get their act together.


    Also @MS: If you need someone to tell you some good moves, let me know.

  5. rameshthanikodi

    I actually think it's game over for VR/MR. I think all these companies (including MS) are vastly overestimating the possible real-world applications of VR/MR. I believe we've already seen most of what can be done, and people aren't excited.

    Gamers aren't gaming in VR, 360 videos are impossible to stream at decent quality, virtual teathers are dumb, nothing outside of stupid tech demos has come out of Apple's ARKit, same applies for Google's Daydream or Tango. Microsoft showcased some real applications like NASA exploring Mars, but that is my point. The applications for VR/MR are going to be niche and limited.

    • Ugur

      In reply to FalseAgent: One can have awesome experiences in VR right now, i have several of the headsets and there are already some awesome games and apps available which one could just not have in any other way. So yes, VR has it's place for many entertainment and serious usage fields. But right now it is for enthusiasts who are cool with paying for a good rig and the better headsets.
      It will take years of constant progress until the gear in a level average joes and janes are cool with will be in affordable price ranges.
      (So no, i'm not convinced of the approach to release cheapo headsets now which for current standards have weak tech, i think that has a major risk of actually turning off people from VR).

      But yes, AR and VR have different use cases they'll excel at.
      Anyone who talks about VR being already dead because AR is the next new big thing now has no clue at all though.
      First, many aspects of what is used and needed for VR is also used and needed for AR. So many AR devs also do VR and the other way round.
      Then it's also different strengths and weaknesses and ideal use cases, so both will always have their place.
      Music did not go away because movies became a thing.
      What many don't understand is that Apple did not suddenly invent modern AR. There were AR sks for both iOS and Android for many years. It's just that Apple bought some companies and now rolls it out baked into their sdk, as google does now, too.
      This will lead to many more AR apps coming out now but actually not game changer level different AR apps than there already were.
      For that it will require bigger hardware changes.
      What many also don't understand is that it's baby steps for both AR and VR and it will take many years to get where we want it to get to.
      Just because Apple has an sdk now does not mean the race is over and Apple won.
      no, it's not even the middle of lap 1 right now.
      Even if one would like the final most progressed form of everything ideally yesterday, yeah, these big massive world changing technologies will actually take a bunch of hardware and software generations to fully get there.
      but then they will reshape how we interact with technology, our world and each other more than anything else before.
      So yeah, will be a fun ride =)


  6. jjaegers

    I'm sorry but this AR stuff through your phone just seems silly to me... the impressive part about HoloLens is the immersion... how immersive is looking through your 6 inch phone going to be? The field of view limitations on the current HoloLens, I believe, are what caused it to be commercial only product for the last few years (along with the price too)... I get that everyone has a phone and there will be a bunch of stuff for it but I think it will be pretty gimmicky looking through a tiny window at some stuff over layered onto a camera image of your surrounding. HoloLens does provide a much more realistic use of AR than something like this... it just may not be possible at the current cost with the FOV limitations it has... I would think that is why MS skipped a generation. If they want HoloLens to succeed they need to put out a $499 device that works as good as the original tech demos of HoloLens before they restricted the field of view... then you have a product that every day people could get interested in. The phone stuff will be cool for games and such but I don't see this as a major change in the way people use computers or do things... HoloLens has that promise.

    • Ugur

      In reply to jjaegers: I agree on all you said besides it was still a mistake by MS to skip a gen.
      but hey, if they deliver well with hololens 2/3 or X or whatever name (name it 2, no nonsense =) ), i still wouldn't complain (too much)


      • Jorge Garcia

        In reply to Ugur:

        Regardless of how well the Hololens ends up working, it had better be available for Android users as well if MS wants any decent amount of people (outside of enterprise) to even discover it. The only people left using windows for amusement purposes are hardcore gamers, and only a fraction of them will migrate to hololens.

  7. Mark from CO

    Paul:


    Just another example of an expanding list where Microsoft was first to the party, but for whatever internal or corporate cultural reason, failed to take advantage of a truly innovative product. You can say Microsoft doesn't leverage its technological well. I say, the recent Google Glass announcement has potentially trumped Microsoft AR/MR efforts even in the business market. Way to let a 2-3 year technological advantage slip away.


    Regardless the relative technological comparisons, Google and Apple have billions of real customers, something Microsoft has lost over the last decade.


    The game is over for Microsoft, not just in this market but the ones that count now. The same competitive factors are at play. It may take longer, and Microsoft may rally for a couple of years, but the fact its, Microsoft doesn't have the same size of customer bases as it competitors, appears slower at expanding and improving key products, and seems to lack a vision/understanding of the critical markets that will define whether it will remain a true player in technology.


    Mark from CO


    PS - Shouldn't someone in the company be held accountable for all this???

  8. karlinhigh

    Washington Post, "Hurry Up, Technology!" May 13, 2014


    "...is it possible there are only so many exciting new ways to deliver content? And is it possible we’ll be forced back to thinking about the content of what we’re doing with our lives? Hurry up tech! Deliver another quantum step forward, like implantable chips, right away! Or we may fall out of the thrall for good, and THEN WHAT?"

  9. Roger Ramjet

    Paul must have a great sense of humor and satire. His conclusion sounds serious, comical, earnest, tongue in cheek all at the same time. Especially given he already declared game over like, already, yesterday. The ground hog day game over. Ever considered writing to provoke reaction?




  10. MutualCore

    >Game over for Microsoft? Obviously.


    FFS, what is this drivel?

  11. Tony Barrett

    Once again, the lack of any form of current, supported, consumer focused mobile platform is killing Microsoft. Whatever they say, it's going to be the end of them eventually. They will just disappear into the cloud ether as another 'me too' services company. Win 10 desktop just doesn't cut it, whichever way you look at it, and MS knows this.

    • Jorge Garcia

      In reply to ghostrider:

      This is sadly true. When the whole World switches over to another horse (mobile), and you fail to make the jump, that's really it for you. Most members of the "Next Billion" will barely know what Windows is or used for. One brilliant event MADE Microsoft, and one misstep will doom it to being an enterprise-only/cloud only business. After the Windows 10 violation, I feel no sympathy. (I will, however, be buying up copies of Windows 8.1.1 though).

    • SvenJ

      In reply to ghostrider: Gotta echo that. Years ago I had City Lens on my Lumias. Not awe inspiring, but useful AR. Building on that would have been logical, but now there is nothing to build on. Doesn't matter much if better comes out two years after good enough.


  12. crfonseca

    I very much doubt this will have any significant impact, at least any time soon, mostly because, unlike Apple with iOS, Google doesn't actually control Android, or at least doesn't control what OEMs do with it.

    What we end up with is very few people actually using devices that run Android 7.0, and comically fewer people using 7.1. And there's what, 5 people using Android Oreo?

    Thing is, unless it's something that people really care about like Instagram or whatever chat or social network all the cool kids use these days or something they really need, say something like an app to pay the parking or keep your hotel or airplane bookings, or rate your favourite beers, people won't install it, so it needs to come preinstalled otherwise most people will never even know it exists.

    Now you're probably thinking, hey, but the Samsung S8 sells a lot, like nowhere near the iPhone, but still a lot! True, but they're still only a very small fraction of all Android devices sold.

    Also, announcing it on the Android Developers blog is probably the best way to make sure no one ever even hears about it.

    Apple's idea on the other hand has none of these problems. It'll be, by far, the most popular AR platform by the end of the year. Google is aiming to have a vague "100 million devices", not really being clear on whether that means actual devices running ARCore or devices capable or running it, but Apple will definitely have 100 million devices running it by the end of the year.


  13. dcdevito

    I'm really happy to see this. This was the one huge advantage iOS 11 had over Android on smartphones, and even sweeter that devs can Target as far back as Kit Kat.

    Also RIP HoloLens

  14. Mike Brady

    Augmented reality? I was just hoping one day to be able to make a decent phone call on my Android **phone**.

  15. MikeGalos

    So, Google is years late to the party, blew their first try and has shown some demoware prior to the big consumer releases from Microsoft and Apple and years after Microsoft has had a specialty market hit to learn from.


    Yeah. Sure. Microsoft's the one that's "Game over"...

    • Waethorn

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Still waiting on Minecraft AR on Hololens....

    • PeteB

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      Are you a Microsoft employee? Maybe resist the urge to squirt tears every time Paul is critical of Microsoft.

      Microsoft had no "speciality market hit" if it's Hololens you're referring to. They couldn't get developers interested, their messaging in what it was and why people should want it was piss poor, they failed to develop any "killer app" for it, and the abominable mailslot FOV ultimately doomed it.


      Game over, baby.

    • toukale

      In reply to MikeGalos: Spoken like a fanatic who refuses to see how the real works. The thing you are not getting is that while Microsoft will spend the next year or so to perfect hololens, Apple and Google will have millions if not billions of devices capable to do a great number of the things hololens is capable of. Where do you think the developers are going to go?
      It's the same problem they faced with windows phone platform, the developers never adopted the platform and we all know how that turned out. It's the reason why Google is following Apple's footstep here, because at the end of the day, it's all about "developers, developers, developers."


  16. Waethorn

    If you didn't already doubt if Microsoft would ever release a consumer version of Hololens, I can confidently tell you now that it's already a failure.

  17. Bats

    This is SOOOOOOO AWESOME! I am going to help my 10 year old niece implement AR on her Youtube Channel.


    So this technology is available for my Pixel now? And it didn't cost me $3000 to experience it?


    This is definitely game over for Microsoft. According to Paul ARCore is available NOW, as opposed to Microsoft's $3000 helmet. With Google and Apple combined dominating the computing usage, there is no way Microsoft can compete now. Clearly, this is a much easier platform for Developers to manage. I can see this being used in classroom either through a Daydream headset or perhaps Google Cardboard, which are both inexpensive ways to experience Google's true "Mixed Reality" as opposed to Microsoft's $3k solution. I am not so familiar with Apple's AR solution, but Google's is definitely more practical.

Leave a Reply