Google, Ap­ple face off over aug­mented re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy

Business World - - TECHNOLOGY -

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Al­pha­bet, Inc.’s Google on Wed­nes­day un­veiled tools to make aug­mented re­al­ity apps for mo­bile de­vices us­ing the An­droid op­er­at­ing sys­tem, set­ting up its lat­est show­down with Ap­ple, Inc.’s iPhone over next-gen­er­a­tion smart­phone fea­tures.

Phone- based aug­mented re­al­ity ( AR), in which dig­i­tal ob­jects are su­per­im­posed onto the real world on screen, got a huge boost from the pop­u­lar­ity of the Poké­mon GO game. The game, launched in the United States in July last year, sent play­ers into city streets, of­fices, parks and restau­rants to search for col­or­ful an­i­mated char­ac­ters.

An­a­lysts ex­pected the game to make $3 bil­lion for Ap­ple over two years as gamers buy “PokéCoins” from its app store.

Google’s take on the tech­nol­ogy will first be avail­able on the Sam­sung Galaxy S8 and Google’s own Pixel phone. The com­pany said in a blog post that it hoped to make the sys­tem, called ARCore, avail­able to at least 100 mil­lion users, but did not set a date for a broad re­lease.

Ap­ple in June an­nounced a sim­i­lar sys­tem called ARKit that it plans to re­lease this fall on “hun­dreds of mil­lions” of de­vices.

Google and Ap­ple will jockey for the at­ten­tion of cus­tomers and soft­ware devel­op­ers who will build the games, walk­ing guides and other ap­pli­ca­tions that would make AR a com­pelling fea­ture.

Many tech in­dus­try lead­ers en­vi­sion a fu­ture in which eye­glasses, car wind­shields and other sur­faces can over­lay dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion on the real world. Google and Mi­crosoft Corp. have al­ready ex­per­i­mented with AR glasses.

Ap­ple and Google have had to make com­pro­mises to bring the tech­nol­ogy to mar­ket.

In Ap­ple’s case, the Cu­per­tino, Cal­i­for­nia- based com­pany de­cided to make its AR sys­tem work with de­vices ca­pa­ble of run­ning iOS 11, its next-gen­er­a­tion op­er­at­ing sys­tem due out this fall.

This means it will work on phones go­ing back to the iPhone 6s, which have a sin­gle cam­era at the back and stan­dard mo­tion sen­sors, rather than a dual cam­era sys­tem found on newer mod­els such as the iPhone 7 Plus or spe­cial depth-sens­ing chips in com­pet­ing phones. That lim­its the range of im­ages that can be dis­played.

Google ini­tially aimed to solve this prob­lem with an AR sys­tem called Tango that uses a spe­cial depth-sen­sor, but only two phone mak­ers so far sup­port it. With ARCore, Google changed course to work on phones with­out depth sen­sors.

Michael Valds­gaard, a de­vel­oper with the fur­ni­ture chain IKEA, called the AR sys­tem “rock solid,” not­ing that it could es­ti­mate the size of vir­tual fur­ni­ture placed in a room with 98% ac­cu­racy, de­spite lack­ing spe­cial sen­sors.

“This is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of where Ap­ple’s own­er­ship of the whole wid­get in­clud­ing both hard­ware and soft­ware is a huge ad­van­tage over de­vice ven­dors de­pen­dent on An­droid and the broader value chain of com­po­nent ven­dors,” said Jan Daw­son, founder and chief an­a­lyst of Jack­daw Research. —

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