Back in 2014, Google announced Project Tango, an augmented reality solution that required an array of special sensors built into a device. Companies like Lenovo and ASUS have since built devices that use the technology, but it seems that Google Tango is going away in favor of ARCore, which was announced today.
ARCore works "without any additional hardware, which means that it can scale across the Android ecosystem." Google says that it will run on millions of devices, and it's available now on the company's Pixel handset and Samsung's Galaxy S8. It will require Android 7.0 Nougat or above, which is why it's millions of devices, rather than over a billion. As of the company's latest Android usage report, Nougat is still installed on just 13.5% of its devices.
The technology works with Java/OpenGL, Unity, and Unreal, with three main focuses:
Motion tracking: Using the phone’s camera to observe feature points in the room and IMU sensor data, ARCore determines both the position and orientation (pose) of the phone as it moves. Virtual objects remain accurately placed.
Environmental understanding: It’s common for AR objects to be placed on a floor or a table. ARCore can detect horizontal surfaces using the same feature points it uses for motion tracking.
Light estimation: ARCore observes the ambient light in the environment and makes it possible for developers to light virtual objects in ways that match their surroundings, making their appearance even more realistic.
At Apple's WWDC 2017 conference in June, the firm announced ARKit, which is similar in concept to ARCore in that it's aimed at providing augmented reality without the need for special sensors or other hardware. With both of these technologies coming to millions upon millions of devices this year, it would seem that Microsoft is falling behind on its efforts with HoloLens, which was first unveiled in early 2015, but still hasn't come to market as a consumer product.
The $3,000 Development Edition of the HoloLens has been shipping for some time, but according to reports from earlier this year, the next version won't be coming until 2019. Microsoft doesn't really have a mobile platform to do something along the lines of ARKit or ARCore either, with Windows 10 Mobile slowly dying out.
Google says that it's also releasing "prototype browsers" for web developers that want to start experimenting with augmented reality. In the meantime, you can check out the new AR Experiments showcase.