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Why Google and Apple will rule mixed reality

Mike Elgan | Feb. 20, 2017
Sorry, Microsoft and Magic Leap, the Silicon Valley smartphone giants have one thing you haven't got

Since then, the first Tango-capable phone has shipped (Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro) and a second has been demonstrated (the Asus ZenFone AR).

Dozens of Tango-supporting apps are now available, and there should be hundreds by the end of the year.

The American Museum of Natural History is using Tango to bring back the dinosaurs, as demonstrated at the most recent Google I/O developer conference.

BMW is using Tango to sell cars.

And MIT researchers are using Tango to create virtual-reality spaces based on real-life spaces. This is a nascent approach to virtual and mixed reality where such environments could be created on the fly using low-cost phones and headsets.

Some of the most interesting Tango apps are for shopping, such as Home AR Designer, which lets you see virtual furniture in place in your living room before you buy.

The best Tango products are yet to come. These will appear in the form of new phones, new apps and new peripherals, such as mixed-reality glasses that work with a smartphone.

What's amazing about Tango is that Google has already demonstrated sophisticated mixed-reality-capable mapping that's inexpensive enough to be offered in a $500 smartphone.

The ZenFone supports not only Tango, but also Google's Daydream VR headset -- but not at the same time. I spoke with Tango chief Johnny Lee this week, and he told me that they can theoretically work together now, but not well enough for public use. Expect the union of Tango and Daydream support (as well as support for lighter mixed-reality glasses) in future Android phones.

Lee also said that the Tango team has frequent meetings with Google's Pixel smartphone group. He said they're well-versed on all aspects of Tango and that there's "a lot of interest and enthusiasm" as Tango technology gets smaller and cheaper. I think it makes enormous sense for future Pixel phones to get Tango functionality built in.

Tango can harvest 3D data the could be useful in the future for identifying objects, which would provide artificial-intelligence-based augmented reality, Lee said. That means Tango itself could be a major tool for identifying objects, buildings, appliances and products and labeling or providing additional information about them in your field of view. Everyday use of this feature could enable Google to crowdsource data on everything in real time, much as Google's Waze app maps traffic.

The most important thing Google and Tango are doing is bootstrapping a smartphone-based mixed-reality ecosystem. This wide effort is happening behind the scenes and encompasses the development of smartphones, peripherals, apps, content -- even a "large library of 3D assets that you can place in the world," according to Lee.


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