Google introduces ARCore, plays catch up with Apple and ARKit

Back in May, just before Google I/O, Google released this blog post, updating developers with the latest on their Augmented Reality project, known as Tango:

With Tango, devices can track motion and understand distances and their position in the real world. For VR, we’ve used technology from Tango as the foundation of WorldSense. For AR, it can be used to enable smartphone AR experiences by placing digital objects in real spaces. The next phone with Tango technology will be the ASUS ZenFone AR, available this summer.

That last sentence is key. Tango was a device specific technology.

A month later, at WWDC, Apple rolled out ARKit, as part of their iOS 11 announcement. Though there is a minimum hardware requirement (requires A9 or later), it will run on any devices that meet the spec.

This is a huge difference. Tango plays to an audience limited to a few specific phones, while ARKit plays to a vastly broader audience, anyone with a relatively recent iOS device.

Google has now leveraged their Tango investment with their own ARKit-like SDK, known as ARCore.

From Google’s official announcement:

We’ve been developing the fundamental technologies that power mobile AR over the last three years with Tango, and ARCore is built on that work. But, it works without any additional hardware, which means it can scale across the Android ecosystem. ARCore will run on millions of devices, starting today with the Pixel and Samsung’s S8, running 7.0 Nougat and above. We’re targeting 100 million devices at the end of the preview.

Just how many A9 chip or later has Apple sold to date? Not sure. But I’d bet it’s closer to 500 million than 100 million (please Tweet at me if you have an actual number).

We know they sold 11 million iPads last quarter and about 41 million iPhones. That’s more than 50 million qualifying devices in just the last quarter. As a reminder, ARKit will run on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, both released in September 2015.

For Google, feels like ARCore was a direct (and seemingly hurried) response to ARKit’s wave of adoption and publicity. Interesting developments.