Two to Tango
We’re looking at the two Tango devices as well as the two native AR-tools, one from Google and the other from Apple
While Tango, launched in 2014, is technically just a trademark for an AR-system which also uses sensors, it is at the same time an idea and a name for the device concept, thus a Tango device is just as normal name for the device as is an iPhone or an Android phone.
Currently there are only two devices in product, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro (Petja, our development head loves it) and the Asus ZenFone 2 AR, which we haven’t been able to test yet. As of now other Tango devices are obsolete and aren’t being supported.
As you can see, this is a huge problem with the Tango system, we have too few devices to make it truly viable system.
The Lenovo Phab is a good phone and good at AR, similarly the pricing point is excellent and it is a lot of phone and device for the price. Similarly ZenFone is getting good reviews, but the price point is at least a double here in Finland.
As with Android, it is easy to develop apps for these devices and as always they are distributed through the Play Store.
So, what does the Tango do?
Project Tango, or rather now just Tango, is an augmented reality computing platform developed and authored by Google. It uses computer vision to enable mobile devices to detect (“see”) their position relative to the real world without GPS or other external signals or devices. Much of the technology, sensors, are based on the idea behind Microsoft’s Kinect-system for X-Box 360 and X-Box One. This is mostly because the system was developed by Johnny Lee, the main contributor behind the Microsoft product.
Tango allows motion-tracking using visual features of the environment using accelerometer and gyroscope to help and make the tracking extremely accurate. The system is also capable of area learning, as in mapping the location and this location can then be enhanced with metadata like notes and so on. Furthermore, Tango’s depth perception is the meat and potatoes that elevate it over the normal AR-systems. While Hololens is capable of depth perception, to a degree, Tango’s is much better and accurate thanks to the sensors. This all gives the Tango devices superb six-degrees of freedom unlike on any mobile system yet.
While in my own view Hololens is more promising, due to it being an HMD, as technology Tango is more mature and developed. However there are problems with the Tango system, the chief of them being the fact that Tango was never truly part of the Android package. However, this has changed now with the Android 8/Oreo and the Google ARCore. When the source was viewed it became apparent that the ARCore, launched shortly after Apple’s AR Kit, is actually the Tango software suite with the access to the extra sensors the devices have turn off. Thus we have a situation where all the hones capable of supporting Android 8 will eventually be turned into augmented reality handsets. Just like the Tango should originally have been. My hope is that we will see more Tango devices, as the software does benefit a lot from the sensors, even if the suite is advanced enough to do everything Tango does. It is even able to handle context and walls, unlike the competitors.
Currently ARCore is the most advanced AR-system for commercial use, even though it was a knee-jerk reflex from Google to unveil it in the wake of Apple’s AR Kit. These two augmented reality suites are both powerful and very easy to use, however they have their own quirks. While AR Kit is better at retaining the scanned area, Core overcomes this with extremely quick restart and so performance is similar. However the point where ARCore wins is that it handles context and walls, while Kit has to have a work-around by having to first manually designate and scan the area for the walls or the context of tables and books to work. Similarly other problems with the ARKit is that it drains the device battery extremely quickly and so the power use needs to be optimized by Apple. Similar oddity for the AR Kit is that it suffers from Apple’s “policy of sameness”. While the iPhone 8 does not have special sensors, it works with the AR Kit perfectly. The oddity comes with the iPhone X and its special sensors pointing towards the user for facial identification. This sensor suite is advanced, extremely good and would work perfectly with augmented reality, however it is pointed the wrong way and thus Apple’s “Tango” never made an appearance.
There is also a third competitor in this market, while their approach is quite different it also compliments the ARCore. This is of course Sony’s Xperia ZX1 and its 3D Creator that uses advanced photogrammetry for scanning. Similar software for scanning already exists at least in Play Store: SCANN3D. However, it seems that Sony’s device and scanning system is more advanced, and the phone will be equipped with Android Nougat straight from the box.
We like both, but due to the problems with AR Kit and the openness of the ARCore and Android we prefer Android. However, both are great platforms for doing things and Apple is quickly making strides into catching up with Google.
Both are almost there, but not quite. I believe the extra sensors on the Tango devices are worth the extra price. Also while augmented reality is a neat thing on mobile devices it only becomes a real tool for professionals when combined with augmented reality headsets. Hopefully we will soon see Android 8 operating system making it into the AR-glasses as well as Apple finally bringing out their own. In my opinion the greatest strength Apple has is their fanbase and their users. They tend to be early adopters and because of this the whole paradigm for augmented reality has shifted virtually overnight. This is something Google is not capable of doing due to the fragmented Android field, though perhaps they can rectify that with their new Pixel line.