It takes two to Tango, and Google’s AR tech is your partner

VR may be making the headlines, but 2017 could belong to augmented reality

Lenovo Phab Pro 2

This is the story of two buddies called virtual reality and augmented reality. VR is currently considered the cool thing, while AR that is tipped to be the big thing for the future. That future is almost here. Google and Lenovo kicked off November with the launch of the Phab 2 Pro, the first Tango smartphone for the consumer market. Priced at $500 (Dh1,836), it’s all set to offer you a glimpse at AR in the real world.

But what is Tango?

Ghostly Mansion
Ghostly Mansion

Tango is Google’s take on AR that goes beyond merely popping up an icon on your phone screen that guides you to the nearest restaurant. It uses a combination of area learning, depth perception and motion tracking to map out what’s around you — so instead of a 2D world, Tango sees what is out there in 3D. It does not rely on GPS or Wi-Fi and cellular signals to track things. Instead, the technology leverages depth-sensing cameras, sensors and algorithms to generate a detailed map.

Tango tech is especially potent indoors, as it figures out not only the objects around you but also their distance from you and from each other. So, for example, if you are shopping for a sofa that will sit in a currently vacant part of your home, a Tango-enabled phone can accurately show you how various virtual sofas, which you have selected from an online store, will look in that spot. In short, it takes the guesswork out of the game.

Taking Tango for a spin

Escape to an AR Woorld, without leaving home.
Escape to Funomena’s AR Woorld without leaving home

Tango has great potential for gaming. Linked to the Phab Pro 2 announcement, game studio Funomena announced the launch of Woorld, a “whimsical Tango experience” where you create a miniature virtual world inside your home. You can infuse it with interactive characters, deck it up with virtual furniture and objects, walk inside it, and yes, share this world with friends. Elsewhere, Raise would like you to raise a virtual pet, at home or in the office, while Phantogeist wants you to defend your territory from phantom-like creatures. Meanwhile, Ghostly Mansion aims to kill you, and then set you on a hunt for clues on how and why you were killed.

On the utilities side of things, the Lenovo Lowe’s Home Improvement app lets you “see how items look in context” before buying them — whether it is a refrigerator or a hanging light.

Of course, this is just the beginning. As the technology spreads, expect more Tango-toting games, utilities and phones to pop up around the world.

The future of Tango and AR

Microsoft’s Hololens

Google recently consolidated its Daydream VR and Tango AR teams under one division — so expect tighter integration between its next-gen VR And AR products. This move also helps Google port interesting features, such as the 3D mapping tech from the AR camp to future VR products.

Microsoft too is betting big on augmented reality – its Hololens project is pitched as a doorway to mixed reality, where you interact with 3D objects floating in midair. Elsewhere, Samsung has added AR features to its Gear VR with the Spectacle app, and has also patented an augmented reality contact lens.

In fact, we predict 2017 will be the year of AR, as it surges ahead of VR in popularity. The less-hyped tech will get to have the last laugh.