Not all of Google’s projects turn out to be successful. Products like Wave, the Nexus Q, and Buzz were all relegated to the dustbin of history, and another one is set to join them. Google has announced that its augmented reality Project Tango platform will be discontinued on March 1st, 2018. Google’s augmented reality aspirations aren’t dead, but they’re changing.
Project Tango was announced in 2014, but the only hardware was a bulky developer phone. A development tablet powered by the Nvidia Tegra K1 launched several months later, but it came with a whopping $ 1,024 price tag. These pieces of hardware were necessary because Tango was based on having powerful sensors inside the device. Tango devices required a depth-sensing camera, IR projector, and a special motion-tracking camera. That’s all in addition to the regular camera hardware. While this setup did make for some impressive AR capabilities, it’s also probably what doomed Tango.
Google managed to get two device makers to try Tango: Lenovo and Asus. It was rather telling that Google never believed in the platform enough to put it in a Nexus or Pixel device. The first Tango phone for consumers was the Lenovo Phab2 Pro, which had a gigantic 6.4-inch display with large Tango camera modules on the rear (see above). The later Asus Zenfone AR slimmed down the Tango hardware to allow for a more reasonable 5.7-inch display. However, both phones were expensive and sold in small numbers. Developers had no reason to target Tango devices when there were almost none of them in the real world.
We’re turning down support for Tango on March 1, 2018. Thank you to our incredible community of developers who made such progress with Tango over the last three years. We look forward to continuing the journey with you on ARCore. https://t.co/aYiSUkgyie
— Tango (@projecttango) December 15, 2017
All the Tango developer resources will be offline starting this coming March, but much of the core Tango experience lives on in ARCore. That’s Google’s new augmented reality platform, which does not require special hardware on the phone. It’s already running on the Pixel phones with a selection of AR stickers in the camera app. ARCore can’t “see” in 3D like Tango devices can with the help of the additional sensors, but it can render objects in the viewfinder and track their position in the real world well enough.
ARCore’s functionality isn’t as technically impressive as Tango was, but it’s probably a much more viable as a platform. Google says developers building for ARCore will have an audience of around 100 million when the final version is released in a few months. It will support the Pixels (of course), but also phones from Samsung, Huawei, LG, and others. Still, it’s sad for anyone who bought a Phab2 Pro or Zenfone AR… all five of them.