If you round individual smartphone AR platforms by devices to the hundredth of a percent, Google’s addressable market with Tango makes up 0.00% of the smartphone market. And as you can tell, that is a bit of a problem. Furthermore, this is true especially when Apple is about to bring smartphone AR to hundreds of millions of devices when it launches ARKit on iOS 11. The latter is likely to happen in a couple of weeks. And if you think about it, it is too late for Google: it should have scaled yesterday. But that is what it’s doing with the introduction of ARCore. So Google is moving forward with new smartphone AR ambitions. How is that?
Moving on, Google confirmed that moving forward phones with Tango-like depth-sensing capabilities will be branded as ARCore compatible devices. And it is a shockingly big move: the company just launched its second Tango device. But it is like a roadmap of where the market is moving and how fast it is heading there. It also shows Google’s smartphone AR ambitions.
For your information, project Tango dropped the “Project” part of its name in June of last year. It was in order to signal its exit from beta. However, it never actually reached far beyond the experimental. Moreover, Clay Bavor, Google AR/VR boss, had something to say about Tango. He said that he has seen Tango as something to validate the use cases of AR.
“Our goal with Tango was really to prove out the core technology and show the world that it’s possible. Obviously, others have started to invest in smartphone AR. Our goal with Tango has always been to drive that capability into as many devices as possible,” said Clay Bavor.
Where do smartphone AR ambitions take?
It is thought, that Google definitely had the head start on the smartphone AR craze. But its focus on bringing high-end HoloLens-level 3D mesh-sensing technologies may have failed. It may have overestimated the willingness of OEMs to integrate expensive new camera layouts to power a technology that no one seems to have developed. And this is true, particularly for game-changing applications.
The result was the following: over the past three years, Google has managed to get Tango on just two fringe smartphones. Those are the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, a hulking beast of a phablet, and the Zenfone AR, a device that launched earlier this month. Apparently, both of the devices launched with Tango support as one of their most heavily marketed features.
The lack of supported devices has restricted development on the platform considerably. And only a handful of Tango-only apps have managed to breach 1,000 downloads, according to Google Play metrics. To better understand, let’s take a look at an example. Amazon’s app Product Preview allows users to visualize accurately sized TVs in their home. The app only recently managed to cross 1,000 downloads. And if you take a look at most paid apps, you will see that many of them manage to only get a few hundred downloads.
The bottom line is that retiring the Tango brand is a major step for Google. It is also a vocal acknowledgment that the excitement around smartphone AR has accelerated. And it has accelerated to a point where Google can’t wait for hardware manufacturers to get on board to compete for development interest.