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Google’s answer to Apple’s ARKit is late and underwhelming

Google Android ARCore

When Google unveiled its virtual reality (VR) program back in 2016, it came with a huge caveat: it needed specialized hardware. Fast forward to today, and you’d still struggle to find phones that are Daydream-compatible, not to mention that Google’s mobile VR experience is hardly as exciting as the VR experiences available on traditional computers and gaming consoles.

Apple, meanwhile, unveiled iOS 11 in June, with augmented reality (AR) being one of its core features. It said at the time that ARKit apps will be available for hundreds of millions of devices once iOS 11 rolls out in a couple weeks, and that seems to be the case.

Google’s latest Android initiative will only make the iPhone shine even more when it comes to offering users access to mixed reality experiences.

Google on Tuesday unveiled ARCore, its answer to iOS 11’s ARKit. That’s certainly unexpected. You may even say that Google copied Apple, choosing to unveil its own mobile AR platform only after Apple demoed AR on iOS devices.

Some will say that Google was engaged in AR development well ahead of Apple. Yes, that’s what the Tango platform tried to offer buyers. But you needed a Tango device for that, and we’re yet to see OEMs announcing huge sales of Tango-enabled devices.

Comparatively, Apple wants to put AR on any device, regardless whether it has dual cameras or not. And Google is pretty clear on the fact that ARCore isn’t Tango. Instead, it’s built on that Tango experience, but it’s also meant to reach millions of devices — with a twist.

When Apple says it’ll deploy iOS 11 to millions of devices, it means it’ll do it instantly. When Google says it, it probably needs to explain it in footnotes. Like this tweet:

Yes, ARCore will probably arrive to millions of Android devices, but only if certain conditions are met. Like running Android 7.0 Nougat or above.

Google does say that it’s targeting 100 million devices at the end of the preview, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. But even though Android tops iOS when it comes to market share, Craig Federighi’s claim that iOS will be “the largest AR platform in the world” is still true even after Google’s ARCore announcement.

As hard as Google might try, and as amazing ARCore may turn out to be, although that’s yet to be decided, Android’s huge fragmentation will turn out to be a major problem for Google’s mixed reality dreams. Not just because device users will either have to wait or buy new hardware to enjoy AR features in apps, but because developers may also choose to go iOS 11 first when it comes to deploying AR experiences.

Don’t believe me? Let’s just wait a few days. Or maybe make it weeks?

Soon after ARKit was released, many developers posted their iOS AR concepts online, and we’ve seen all sorts of incredible designs since then. Let’s see if they’re just as eager to bring those AR apps to Android just as fast.

Oh, and by the way, is it just me, or is there way too much camera shake in all these ARCore experiences? See more of them over at Google.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he's not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.