Google has had impressive augmented reality technology for years (Tango), and now the company is releasing a mobile developer tool to get more AR features on Android phones without hardware tweaks.
Called ARCore, the software helps mobile apps and websites better track physical objects and overlay them with virtual images. Google will now pitch Android partners on its software, rather than courting them to be compatible with Tango.
ARCore will be available for developers to preview on Tuesday with Google's own Pixel phones and Samsung Electronics's S8 smartphone. Google plans to add more Android devices over time and fully launch the software this winter.
So far, AR has mostly showed up inside games such as the mobile hit Pokemon Go. Facebook and Snap are using the technology to jazz up and share photos and videos inside their apps. Apple is trying to make the technology more mainstream with its new AR software, ARKit, which will be available on about half a billion iPhones and iPads later this year.
Google imagines a broad array of applications for its AR technology. For example, instead of tracking a bobbing blue dot on Google Maps, people could situate themselves in a panoramic view of the street. Instead of typing search queries into a phone, people will simply point a camera that can understand everything around you.
Google has also hinted at commerce uses. Earlier this year, it showed off trials with Gap and BMW where the retailers used the Tango system to build apps that functioned as virtual showrooms.
Tango's specialized cameras and depth sensors give it more capabilities than ARCore and Apple's ARKit. However, Google executives said they've developed features in ARCore, like light detection and the ability to place and manipulate virtual objects easily on real surfaces, that come close to matching Tango's abilities. Google plans tools for developers to build AR experiences on mobile web browsers, including those for iPhones.