Google’s Tango and Apple’s ARKit approach augmented reality from opposite sides

If you ask half the tech world right now, Apple is on the verge of inventing augmented reality.

While some degree of eye-rolling is appropriate, it is true that ARKit is going to accomplish something special by being available on such a large number of phones and tablets with nothing more than a software update. It’s the kind of thing that gets Android owners wondering why Google didn’t go this route, choosing instead to invest so heavily in what we now call Tango.

While checking out the ASUS ZenFone AR, the first Tango phone people will actually buy, I decided to ask around and see what the people working with this tech every day had to say.

A big part of understanding the functional difference between ARKit and Tango is actually trying the two approaches to AR out for yourself. Apple’s approach is simple, lightweight, and fun. ARKit lets you choose a point in front of the phone, and the augmented layer exists based on that point. You can walk around that point, and you can walk up to and away from that point, and the combination of motion sensors and accelerometers in the iPhone gives you a reasonably accurate translation in the real world. If you haven’t seen the demo videos, you should do that.

But if you’re going to call ARKit high-end augmented reality, it’s almost appropriate to call Tango something else. Tango can’t be released into the world with a software update, because it requires specialized hardware to be aware of the world around it. When you place a virtual object in front of you with Tango, the phone is able to detect far more than just that one point. The software is able to “see” the shapes around it. Tango phones can tell which wall you are facing in the room you are standing in, and can tell when you have left the room with the virtual object in it.

The things you can do with Tango open the doors to a universe of things ARKit simply isn’t capable of, and that’s not coming from me. After showing me how Wayfair plans to use Tango

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