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Google's answer to ARKit is ARCore, and it's available right now

ARCore hero
ARCore hero (Image credit: Android Central)

Shortly after the Android Oreo announcement, David Burke, VP on engineering and Android took to Twitter and hinted at "one more sweet surprise" coming this week. It turns out that surprise is an Augmented Reality SDK that takes all the brains of the Tango Core and makes it available to phones without the fancy sensors on the back. It's called ARCore, and it looks an awful lot like Google's answer to Apple's ARKit.

Here's what we know so far!

Where Tango phones are capable of filling entire buildings with Augmented Reality data that can be accesses from room to room, even as you go up and down stairs, ARCore is built for what is right in front of you. It uses the single camera on the back of your phone to detect flat surfaces and lets you place AR objects to walk around and explore.

The motion sensors on your phone let you wander around the stuff you've placed, giving it the illusion of existing right in front of you as long as you're looking through the phone. As long as you are in the same room as the thing you're playing with, or you're outside in a wide open space, it'll look like that thing is really there.

This is where the Tango brains kick in. ARCore uses the ambient light sensor on the phone to give developers more information for things like dynamic lighting and shading, so the shadows cast by the AR object should line up with the lighting in the room and the character will appear to be lit by the light in your area.

Out of the box, Google is ensuring there's plenty of support for ARCore so fans can start playing right away and developers can take inspiration from those concepts to build new things. On top of support from Unity, Unreal Engine, and prominent AR developers like Wayfair and Niantic, Google has AR versions of VR darlings like Tilt Brush and Blocks so people can start creating in AR right away. In theory this means not only are there killer apps out of the box with support for thing like Pokemon Go on the horizon, but games powered by Unreal and Unity could be right around the corner.

Google's AR strategy also goes beyond the Play Store with prototype browsers aimed at developers who want to build AR for the web. These browsers will enable ARCore and ARKit users to access AR tech right from the browser, encouraging developers to build for everyone instead of just one platform.

While ARCore isn't anywhere near as capable as a full Tango phone, the most important feature here is accessibility. Google is launching ARCore today as a preview for Galaxy S8 and Pixel phones, with plans to quickly grow the number of phones that can support ARCore. Huawei, ASUS, and LG phones are expected to join this list shortly, with an internal goal of 100 million supported phones by the end of the preview. According to Google, Android 7.0 or higher is the current limitation for phones that could eventually be supported.

Are you excited to try out ARCore? Check out Google's AR Experiments showcase on your Pixel or Galaxy S8 today to see what you can do!

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

26 Comments
  • They have a long, long way to catch up with Apple in this regard.
  • You do know Google pioneered AR and VR far before Apple did with Tango and Cardboard, right? And that ARCore is basically a more condensed version of Tango. Try harder, will you?
  • Come again?
  • The verge writer who played with both Apple ARkit and google ARCore mentioned this below. I will take the words of that writer rather than you who have not yet experienced ARCore.
    "These are the same kind of capabilities you’ll find in Apple’s ARKit, and I haven’t spent enough time with either platform to rigorously compare their quality. But my controlled demo at Google’s offices was one of the best experiences I’ve had with phone-based AR. Objects didn’t jitter when I walked around them, the way I’ve seen even some official ARKit demos do."
  • In the gif of the tin man, you can see the shadow adjust as he is standing still.
  • When is AC gonna review the Zenfone AR?
  • When it becomes relevant.
  • Downside is Google won't reach that many people as Apple will with ARkit.
    Google is locking it down to 7.0 and up cheap new Smartphone phones have 6.0.
    Apples New devices (and only ones in market) iPod 6/iPad Air 1/2 iPhone (going to iOS 11) all the iPad Pro models even the discontinued iPad and iPhones that are going to iOS 11 will have ARkit so Apple is reaching more people, Sorry but google devices are limited, most big games come to Apple first then you gotta wait and hope it comes to Android.. I went years with a Android & im far happier with my Apple Devices while I have a Android phone I don't put many apps on it to limited in space, plus I can get all my apps on my iOS & pretty much all games/apps have a vast improvement in speed or how they run.
    Android has WAY too many devices / Knock offs etc ... So Devs gotta fight to work with all of them thus making Apples games / Apps stable because your working with a iPod/iPhone/iPad that may come in couple sizes but less then androids ..
    Apples ARkit will be the best..
    Googles may compete but it has many devices it has to catered to (well many that are on 7.0)
    Also to get one of these phones/ devices you are paying a arm and a leg for a Android -_-
    Just use that well earned money get a Apple a iPad Pro 10 or 12 has great specs and compatibility plus this device will have updates for 3 -4 maybe longer given it's ram etc Android devices don't live that long -_-
  • Per Apple documentation "ARkit requires an iOS device with an A9 or later processor." iPhone SE, iPhone 6S and newer, iPad (2017) or newer, iPad Pro (any). Apple has limited the devices capable of using ARkit as well. I'm not sure which userbase is larger of the two but it should still be pretty close.
  • Counting only iPhones sold for Apple's current fiscal year (from last October to last June), so that no ARKit incompatible phones at all are included (but many compatible ones left out), Apple has sold 170,079,000 iPhones. That's leaving many compatible phones out, and before iPads. I think the question here is, will we see ARCore fragmentation among Android OEMs just like we see with Android OS versions? I think it's going to be problematic if ARCore requires OEM integration and support.
  • You are looking at this for this year and maybe part of next year. Google is doing the right things here, they could not allow Apple to get all this AR coverage without them having some kind of answer. Google learned early on that if there is one thing Apple is great at is getting people on board on things. It paid off for them with Android, they are not about to let this one pass by. At the end of the day, competition is good.
  • Android 7 users are much more than A9 chip users.
  • Wow, what an undeveloped knowledge of Google and it's core capabilities you have! Maybe do some real research before commenting on things you have little to no knowledge about!
  • This is great to expand the visibility faster but it's no better than Apple will have in ios11 right now with their snapchat-esque AR capabilities.
    Google needs to put more emphasis on the Tango hardware set up. Get it in a modern phone design and get more developers on board.
  • You just don't get it, do you? Tango is not happening any time soon, Google have been trying and failing since 2014 to get hardware support from the oem's. Can you blame them, when only Samsung, Google and a few Chinese oem that's making any money on Android. If Google wants tango to happen, they will have to do it themselves, or pay those oem's to take the financial risks.
  • I do get it. Thanks for your tirade though.
    We will endure half baked AR from Apple and Google's ARCore for at least a year but likely longer until we get to deep AR that hardware brings.
  • Im looking forward too working on this. Very promising
  • Hey Russell, remember your article a few weeks ago that tried to trashed ARkit and how awesome tango was you claimed. What I said at the time in one of the comments was, you are missing the point. ARkit was a play at developer supports for an obvious ar glasses launch in a year or two. It seems Google thought the same, better is irrelevant if all the developers are developing for good enough.
  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Can't get any otlf the experiments working on my gs8+ none of them show the launch button, anyone else?
  • Same here on my pixel running O. Can't see any buttons to actually try them out
  • Ditto! Have an S8 but don't see any way to try it out... all I see is the overview.
  • This is great news!! I cannot wait to see what the AR programming teams come up with?!!
  • maybe i'm missing something, but - it says these are available now for those 2 phones... how do i actually get it to work on my S8+??
  • Devices with A9 CPUs are almost 2 years old at this point. You won't even be able to buy most pre-A9 devices after the 2017 iPhone models release. Apple is going to get a majority of their customers on day one. And after this is all released, apps like Snapchat, etc. are going to get even more people to upgrade - just to join in on the "fun." I'd wager a majority of their customers upgrade to newer iPhones, which means the share of people using iPhone 6 and earlier is below 50%. That is the only way they can continue to sale as many as they do, while not really seeing any large increases in marketshare - especially considering they are fairly absent in lower-cost/emerging/developing markets (where people simply cannot afford their devices). Also, Apple dominates the high end, "we pay for stuff" market niche. They're likely to have better developer tools for this stuff, as well, from day one. There is more incentive to be excited about what they have to offer, from a developer perspective. It's one more chance to monetize your product (i.e. "New major update. Must buy new version!").
  • I have a Google Pixel XL and going to that website just lets me see pictures and video. Is there any way to test the actual apps?