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What Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro Tango phone means for AR

Al Sacco | June 13, 2016
Lenovo last week announced the world's first smartphone that supports Google's Tango augmented reality platform. The Phab 2 Pro is a consumer-oriented device that ironically could help progress AR in the enterprise.

Lenovo's AR experience on the Phab 2 Pro is impressive, and it shows genuine signs of Tango and AR potential. However, the AR experience supersedes the overall smartphone experience today's consumer has come to expect. Modern smartphone owners want sleek, slim and light devices they can easily carry in a pocket. Lenovo's first Tango phone is clunky, thick and heavy. The Tango AR features are compelling, but not compelling enough to justify the sacrifices. And unless lots of people use or experiment with the phone, it's not going to create any real amount of demand for AR devices.

3) U.S. carriers not ready to back Phab 2 Pro, Tango

Lenovo may be willing to back Tango, but U.S. wireless carriers, the go-to source for mobile phones for most people, apparently aren't — at least not yet. The Phab 2 Pro will be globally available via Lenovo starting in September, and Lowe's plans to offer the device in its stores during the 2016 holiday season. However, consumers won't be able to walk into a carrier's store and experiment with the device, and U.S. carriers won't officially support it, which means it could have some compatibility or quality of service issues.

The lack of carrier support also means Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and their smaller counterparts aren't convinced the masses are ready for AR, and they're unwilling to put up the funds necessary to stock and sell the device. They might be right. The Phab 2 Pro should help raise awareness around AR and legitimize the tech, but AR is still in its infancy, and the average smartphone user probably doesn't want or need a phone that prioritizes AR functionality over general usability. If carriers don't support Tango phones, they're not going to find their way into many people's (large) pockets. 

4) Consumer Phab 2 Pro could prove AR's value in enterprise, education

Lenovo is marketing the Phab 2 Pro as a consumer device, and its sub-$500 price is clearly designed to be affordable. However, some of the Phab 2 Pro's most compelling features are more fit for businesses and academic institutes.

For example, a Museum in Barcelona has already used a Tango tablet to provide guided tours. Lowe's plans to use a Tango app to let customers visualize home improvements from afar without making actual changes — and, in turn, increase sales. A company called Wayfair is also using Tango to let potential customers virtually place home furnishings around their homes before making purchases. And the American Museum of Natural History created an app for museum-goers to place virtual dinosaurs in their surrounds to experience scale.

Tango's most intriguing consumer feature is probably its potential for immersive gaming, but most of the gaming and entertainment apps Google demoed are still half-baked. In other words, the Phab 2 Pro makes the enterprise and educational appeal of Tango and AR much more evident than the consumer value. The more businesses and organizations that take note and begin to investigate and experiment with AR, the faster the market will progress and mature.


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