Shooting a video of yourself with a hologram tiger, seeing how a new BMW will look parked in your driveway, and going on a field trip to the moon–all this and more will soon be available on your smartphone, thanks to Google’s augmented-reality (AR) computing platform, Tango, and its virtual reality (VR) platform, Daydream. The first phone to include both, the Asus ZenFone AR, will finally be available later this month and is available now for preorder starting at $648.
So, what can you actually do with an “AR smartphone?” Turns out, a lot.
Asus recently set up a gallery space in San Francisco to show off some of the features of the new handset. I checked it out and took a few of the ideas out for a spin. While many of the features are currently limited to the ZenFone, you can expect them to work with other Tango and Daydream-enabled smartphones in the future as well.
Tango is the real star on the device. With it, the phone is able to perceive things like height and depth in a space, and then place virtual items in the room that you can see on the phone’s display as if they were physical. For instance, buying furniture can be a pain, even more so when you’re shopping online and aren’t quite sure whether that table or chair will blend with what you already have in your living room–or even fit. With the ZenFone, online merchant Wayfair is launching an app that lets you choose from a wide number of items in its digital catalog, and then virtually position them in your home.
In a statement, Steve Conine, cofounder and co-chairman of Wayfair, said the company put a dedicated, in-house research and development team together more than a year ago to work on the app. He sees the ability to see a chandelier hanging from your ceiling, hang a digital picture, or unbox a new sofa in your living room as the future of shopping.
As someone who has a lot of anxiety when it comes to purchasing the perfect table or bookcase, I think he’s right. I can see the feature, which is already available in a slightly different form through the company’s app Wayfair View, being exceptionally useful. Being able to see things like how a chandelier that looks small online will totally overpower your dining room, or that a chair might look out of place in your living room, even though it fits, can save you a lot of headaches and moving expenses, not to mention time with a tape measure.
And Wayfair isn’t alone. Lowes, iStaging, and Measure also have apps for the device, enabling similar features, including digital measuring tape.
You And The Holograms
More party trick than life-changing feature, the phone’s AR capabilities also allow you to place a virtual hologram–like a tiger or Spider-Man–beside you in a room and shoot a video or take a picture. It’s definitely a neat effect, although something that would lose its novelty over time.
BMW has a similar app that’s slightly more useful. It allows you to virtually place one of its vehicles into your parking space or driveway, or even your living room. On a basic level, it can help you see how tight of a parking job it would be in your tiny garage if you buy a BMW. Even better, you can walk around the digital model to get a feel for the size of the car, and even step inside and see the interior. Buttons within the app also allow you to customize the color of the car and its interior.
Virtual Field Trips
Google is also working on creating Tango-powered virtual field trips for classrooms through its Expeditions program. With the feature, a class of students would use phones to explore things like the solar system or a historical landmark that has been digitally placed in their classroom. A teacher can control a planet, for instance, and add arrows to the digital model to help explain different aspects. Google will offer kits to schools that will include phones for everyone in the class to use.
And all this is just the beginning. More Tango-powered smartphones are on the way, and AR capabilities are also coming to the iPhone and iPad as well. Apple’s answer to Tango, ARKit, arrives this fall with iOS 11.