Google recently released a developer preview of ARCore, an augmented reality platform that allows developers to create AR applications for Android devices.
While Google has invested time and labor into augmented reality technology for years (it notably released Project Tango for Android phones in 2014), the search giant is joining Apple and Facebook in rushing to bring AR to consumers’ mobile devices on a massive scale.
Tango never quite took off because few Android manufacturers committed to building phones capable of supporting it. In that regard, ARCore, is seen as a response to Apple’s similarly named ARKit. Unlike Tango, which required specialized mobile hardware like cameras and depth-sensors, ARCore is built to work on broader range of Android smartphones. While it’s built on the work underpinning Tango, ARCore is more similar to ARKit in that it’s far simpler to integrate and leverages the capabilities that already exist in mainstream phones. It does away with Tango’s high-end 3D mesh formation and simpler surface detection technologies that can also be seen in ARKit.
“We’ve architected ARCore to be able to perceive a wide variety of sensors,” Google AR/VR head Clay Bavor said to TechCrunch. “We foresee, in the future, many more phones having depth-sensing capabilities and as those come into mainstream phones, that’s great, ARCore will work seamlessly with those and benefit from the additional sensing capabilities.”
The similarities don’t end there. Both AR platforms focus on three core competencies:
Detecting horizontal planes.
Light estimation (which creates realistic lighting and shadows for virtual objects).
The platforms also both run on Unity, Unreal, and Java/OpenGL. Gaming companies like Niantic (maker of Pokemon Go) have already climbed aboard both platforms.
“[ARKit and ARCore] both have great functionality without appreciable differences,” says Beck Besecker, CEO and co-founder of AR firm Marxent to Mashable. “Combined, they lend significant momentum to mass market augmented reality experiences. It’s a big wake up call to both investors and developers that the technology to support AR experiences is here, and that now is the time to take advantage.”
Google hopes to bring ARCore to “100 million devices at the end of the preview”, announcing that it is “working with manufacturers like Samsung, Huawei, LG, ASUS and others to make this possible with a consistent bar for quality and high performance.”
With that being said, Google has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to compete with ARKit in terms of scale and adoption. ARCore is thus far only available on the Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S8 and requires Android Nougat 7.0 or higher to run.
Apple first unveiled ARKit at WWDC just a few months ago, but its AR platform is already poised to become the largest in the world. The company is due to release ARKit in a few short weeks along with iOS 11, transforming millions of iPads and iPhones into augmented reality-capable devices in the process. The move promises to change the way that legions of Apple users game, shop, create art, and interact with our devices.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has expressed enthusiasm for AR as the next big thing, signaling his company’s commitment to the technology: “I regard it as a big idea like the smartphone. The smartphone is for everyone, we don’t have to think the iPhone is about a certain demographic, or country or vertical market: it’s for everyone. I think AR is that big, it’s huge.”
That may be why Google has plans to eventually bridge the gap between ARCore and ARKit by bringing AR to web browsers. The idea is to encourage developers to build AR applications and experiences on the web that are powered by both ARCore and ARKit, and are compatible with both Android and iOS.