Project Tango vs. ARKit

There has been a lot of talk about VR and AR in 2016, but this cannot compare with what 2017 has in store for us. Apple, Google and other manufacturers have mind-blowing tech gadgets for augmented reality in hopes that they will become real products in the near future. Each company has its own unique approach to AR and game building software, but here we will focus on Google’s Project Tango and Apple’s ARKit. We will discuss the merits of both projects and see how they compare against one another.

Google Tango

Google’s Project tango is totally different from Google’s VR efforts. It is an enhanced mobile device with a special camera and sensor array which allows the phone or tablet to simulate the way humans process visual information. With the help of this simulation, Tango apps can be cognizant of the physical dimensions of a space and utilize this data to create a customized experience for the user that is specific to the world around him.

In layman’s terms, Tango knows your location in a room as well as how people move from one room to another. Google has given several breakthrough app development demonstrations where apps on a Tango phone can be used as a tour guide in a museum by being aware of the physical environment and offering information about each exhibition. What’s especially impressive is how well Tango guides users up and down stairs while being aware of its position in space the entire time. This is why Tango software is being used in NASA’s SPHERES project on the International Space Station.

For us Earth dwellers, Tango exists in only a couple of phones that you can currently buy with plans to create more in the near future. Mobile apps designed for Tango can be used for things such as measuring entire buildings to evaluate Wi-Fi strength and for AR games where you can walk around the world you are playing in. Current Tango mobile application software can immerse you in a story, measure depth and take us on trips across buildings with relative ease.

Today’s Tango phone, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, is a gigantic device with cameras that prevent Tango apps from working properly in low light. Google has released a second Tango-compatible phone, the ZenFone AR, which show some improvements when compared to its predecessor, but faces another obstacle. Since cell phones have thin margins and every component costs extra what percentage of all Android smartphones will be equipped with Tango sensors in the near future? The next generation of Tango launches are expected to address this issue with new camera and sensor arrays.

Apple ARKit

Unlike other AR app developers, Apple does not want to bring AR to a small group of users and improve their experience over time. They want to bring this new technology to every iOS user simultaneously. The ARKit is a set of tools that allow developers to build AR apps for both iPhone and iPad, which means that they can decide exactly how deep into AR they want bring existing apps. Apple’s showcase demos from the ARKIt include transforming flat surfaces in your home into AR playgrounds, visualizing complex data and stories being acted out right in front of you.

Although developers are only now starting to explore what the ARKit is capable of, the underlying functionalities are quite clear. You point the camera at a flat surface and if the software confirms that the surface is suitable for AR-it’s go time! When you place something in the real world, the software allows you to move as if the virtual world was actually there. If you want a closer look at something, you can lean in, walk away to get a larger view or walk around the world you have created to see it from every angle.

Most importantly, Apple has made the ARKit simple for users to pick up and use right away. This kind of point- and-play AR software is not available anywhere else, but this is exactly what casual AR users need. There is a slight drawback. Due to its simplicity, you can’t have multiple AR apps running at the same time and you most certainly cannot have these experiences existing in different physical locations. This is the difference between living in an area where AR happens around you and deciding to augment an area when you launch the app.

ViLo: The Virtual London Platform by CASA on ARKit from Virtual Architectures on Vimeo.

How do they Compare?

Currently, Tango partners are shipping Tango AR Phones for commercial use. However, as consumer options become available, the biggest advantage of Tango will be more accurate movement and placement of AR apps and games. Tango’s AR phones will provide a more immersive AR experience because they are more aware of the shapes in your space and how you will interact with them.

Apple’s goal is instant mass adaptation, but it is limited when compared to the Tango. The ARKit is only capable of augmenting the space directly in front of you, as long as you have the app open, rather than the entire space such as Tango or even the MS Hololens. However, an advantage of the ARKit is the ability of Apple to push its users to update to the newest version of iOS. At this year’s WWDC conference, Apple CEO, Tim Cook, noted that 86% of Apple users have upgraded to the newest iOS 10 while only 7% of Android devices run on the latest Andropid operating system, the Nougat. With the expected release of iOS 11 this fall, Apple will make AR available on millions of devices and not merely to games. For example, home goods retailer, Ikea is interested in using the ARKit to help their customers visualize how their furniture will look like in real life.

The Verdict

Given the fact that both Project Tango and the ARKit still have a way to go to overcome their certain technological hurdles, such as a lack of scene complexity, plain detection and mapping images to walls. However, taking everything into consideration, the ARKit has the brighter upside to it. Apple has a much grander agenda planned by bringing AR to a wide audience, making simple to use AR software and they have a more enthusiastic user base. Also, the ArKit provides developers with the opportunity to track the orientation of devices and understand the lighting and geometry of captured scenes. This means that developers can position graphics that remain fixed on surfaces such as floors, table tops and walls even as the camera perspective shifts. Because of the above mentioned choosing the ARKit will be a wider investment.

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