For eons, there’s been plenty of evidence that Google was a believer in the power of augmented reality, from the ill-fated Google Glass to the environment-mapping Project Tango hardware. But last year, when Apple announced an AR platform for iOS called ARKit and Google responded with ARCore for Android, AR arrived as a standard technology for conventional smartphones.
At the I/O conference keynote this week, we started to get a clearer idea of Google’s AR vision. Google Lens, an Android feature that lets you point your phone’s camera at the world and do useful stuff–such as identify buildings and read signs–got a bunch of new features, including Style Match, which can look at decor or outfits and suggest aesthetically complementary items. (Lens will also be built into the camera apps on numerous phones.) Google also previewed a Google Maps feature that will overlay navigational arrows on the real world as seen through your camera. And it announced new ARCore features for developers, including the ability to create multiuser AR experiences such as games.
All of this involves AR coming to people where they already are rather than expecting them to buy new and specialized devices. At I/O, Google VP of product for AR and VR Aparna Chennapragada told me that she expects AR adoption to be less about killer apps than pervasiveness. “If you look at it from the angle of what did a gyroscope or accelerometer or GPS do on the phone, it’s everywhere after a while,” she says. “It’s an intelligence that every app has.”
“Each time you lose one level of indirection between you and the computer, you get closer and closer to your computer adapting to you vs. the other way around,” she adds. “There’s nothing more natural than just looking at something and getting a sense of what you want.”
Meanwhile, Cloud Anchors–ARCore’s new multiuser capability–is notable in part because Google isn’t trying to use it to give Android phones an edge over iPhones. “One of the key things with Cloud Anchors is, works great on Android, and it works great on iOS,” VP of AR and VR Clay Bavor told me. “So developers can build their experiences that bridge the two platforms. I think that’s going to be really important in unlocking some much more powerful and interesting AR experiences than are out today.”