Google launches Tango AR smartphone system

After more than two years of tinkering and finessing, today Google finally officially launched its Tango smartphone augmented reality system to the masses.

Right now, it’s only available on Lenovo’s $499 Phab2 Pro, which arrives in stores in the US today, but you can expect to see this in a bunch of Android phones in the next year or so.

About 35 applications are launching with Tango support at launch. I had a chance to demo about a dozen of them and results were mixed. Developers are really still figuring out what these cameras are good for and some might be trying a bit too hard to capitalize on the depth-sensing feature. There are certainly some ground-breaking apps in early infancy.

For gamers, Tango certainly offers a chance to have a more intense gaming session. Titles like Crayola Color Blaster show the ability of games to capitalize on larger playing spaces while utilizing the technology’s tracking abilities.

What were ultimately most intriguing were the non-gaming apps. iStaging allows you to position furniture in your home and see what a new lamp would look like on your desk. This app was one of the most effective in highlighting how much better Tango’s mapping has gotten over the past several months. Matterport’s Scenes app allows users to capture their spaces in volumetric 3D, what that’s actually useful for is a bit limited in scope, but visually it’s really freaking cool and highlights just how sophisticated even Tango’s first effort is.

Tango has tellingly undergone some organizational changes within Google since it was first introduced. The program is now operated directly alongside Google Daydream, the company’s central smartphone virtual reality effort. It’s clear that there’s very little intention to keep these programs separate for too long. The opportunities offered by Tango in terms of inside-out positional tracking would offer VR a major boon if a smartphone is launched that is Tango and Daydream compatible.

For all its notoriety and specialty, Tango is a feature bound for mass consumption. Depth sensing cameras are a feature that will inevitably land on smartphones with the clear use cases becoming most apparent after we all readily have access to them. Tango is starting with a rather tepid launch on a single Lenovo phablet, but the quality experience is certainly there.