Lenovo, the Chinese computer titan, showcased a series of new smartphones, including a keenly-awaited Tango handset that is clever enough to grasp your physical surroundings, such as the room’s size and the presence of other people, and potentially transform how we interact with e-commerce, education and gaming.
Today’s smartphones track location through GPS and cell towers, but that does little more than tell apps where you are. Tapping Google’s 3-year-old Project Tango, the new Phab2 Pro phone will use software and sensors to track motions and map building interiors, including the location of doors and windows.
That’s a crucial step in the promising new frontier in “augmented reality,” or the digital projection of lifelike images and data into a real-life environment.
Google previously released experimental Tango devices designed for computer programmers, spurring them to build about 100 apps that should work with the Phab2 Pro. Home improvement retailer Lowe’s is releasing an app that enables Phab2 Pro users to measure spaces with the phone and test how digital replicas of appliances and other decor would look around a house.
Nonetheless, Tango could raise fresh concerns about privacy if controls aren’t stringent enough to prevent the on-the-fly maps from being shared with unauthorized apps or heisted by hackers.
Analysts say key to the Tango phone’s success is likely to hinge on the breadth of compelling apps that people find useful in their everyday lives.
In a blog on Thursday, Google came out with features of Tango. We take a look at some key aspects of Tango:
1. Tango helps one answer a new set of questions about the world through specialized hardware and apps. Some of the apps that work with Tango are the ones that overlay digital objects on top of your surroundings. For example if you’re shopping for a new bed, Tango lets you view your bedroom through your phone and visualize different options—even walk around the virtual furniture like it’s actually there.
2. If Tango fulfills its promise, furniture shoppers will be able use the Phab2 Pro to download digital models of couches, chairs and coffee tables to see how they would look in their actual living rooms.
3. With a Tango-enabled phone, one has a toy box, a solar system, and a pet shop in his pocket. One can play with dominoes, explore the planets, defend oneself from invading aliens, or feed one’s virtual dog—all through phone.
4. Kids studying the Mesozoic Era would be able to place a virtual Tyrannosaurus or Velociraptor in their home or classroom, and even take selfies with one. The technology would even know when to display information about an artist or a scene depicted in a painting as you stroll through a museum.
5. Google says that in future, Tango can help one navigate a mall, museum or place where he or she has never been. Tango can overlay directions to your destination, then provide more info once you arrive.
6. Google claims Tango will help in exploring the world in a new way, whether it is shopping, playing, or just finding one’s way around,
7. Tango will be able to create internal maps of homes and offices on the fly. Google won’t need to build a mapping database ahead of time, as it does with existing services like Google Maps and Street View.
But Tango’s room-mapping technology is probably still too abstract to gain mass appeal right away, says Ramon Llamas, an analyst at the IDC research group.
“For most folks, this is still a couple steps ahead of what they can wrap their brains around, so I think there’s going to be a long gestation period,” Llamas says.
Both large and small tech companies are betting that augmented reality, or AR , will take off sooner than later. Microsoft has been selling a $3,000 prototype of its HoloLens AR headset. Others, such as Facebook’s Oculus and Samsung, are out with virtual reality, or VR, devices. Google has one coming as well through its Daydream project. While AR tries to blend the artificial with your actual surroundings, VR immerses its users in a setting that’s entirely fabricated.