Tango is more than a way of dancing, it is also the first Augmented Reality platform for mobile devices that can record depth very accurately. Or rather; it WAS an AR platform because Google has announced that they will discontinue the development of this revolutionary project in 2018.

Does that mean the end of Augmented Reality for Google, or will we see the experiences with Project Tango in other products?


What is Project Tango?
Project Tango started in June 2014, it was a small-scale project led by Johnny Lee who previously played an important role in the development of the Microsoft Kinect camera for the Xbox game console. The concept behind Tango was a platform where people and devices are always aware of their location.

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To test this concept, a “Peanut” smartphone was developed and a seven-inch tablet. In 2016 Project Tango would be further rolled out to consumers in collaboration with Lenovo. The Phab 2 Pro smartphone was the first smartphone for end-users with the Tango AR hardware built-in.


Tango will end in March 2018
UPDATE: As of March 1, 2018, all support for Project Tango will stop. ARCore is the new focal point in the Augmented Reality for Google.

While it won’t come as a surprise to the insiders, Google officially announced on December 15, 2017, that they will stop developing Project Tango. While no layoffs will accompany this decision, support for Tango hardware and software will cease as of March 2018. With only a few devices that use this technology, there will be few users of it, for lovers of AR technology it is quite disappointing.


Why was Project Tango so special?
The project was led by Johnny Lee, years before Tango started developing hobby software for the Nintendo Wii game console. In addition, he managed to turn the Wii-mote controller into a kind of 3D scanner.

Partly because of his experiments, he was hired at Microsoft where he worked on the Kinect controller for the Xbox game console. This was a 3D scanner with vrsync that could capture the movements of a person and translate them into computer games.

Although the Kinect has not been a resounding success, we now see the same technology in the Microsoft HoloLens, a Mixed Reality headset that has many similarities with Tango in terms of functionality. At Google, the focus from the start was on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The camera was able to scan a room in 3D in real-time. When this space was indexed you could add an Augmented Reality layer.


Tango in practice
Let’s say that technology has not really become popular with the general public. The smartphones with a special camera were too expensive in relation to the possibilities, in addition, there were hardly any apps available for it.

The technology was more appreciated in controlled circumstances such as museums, the combination of positioning and Augmented Reality proved to be very effective in supplementing a museum with extra information. Visitors were given a Tango tablet with which “invisible” information was visible on the screen, from informative texts to tanks entering a showroom.


Tango returns in ARCore
The discontinuation of Project Tango does not mean that Google is now stopping developing AR applications, only the ambition has been scaled back. When Apple came up with ARKit, an Augmented Reality development platform for standard iPhones, Google couldn’t be outdone.

The 3D sensor technology was removed from the code, and the platform was renamed ARCore. Based on this system, you can use AR with a standard Android smartphone (with the right processor). Although this system is less powerful than Tango, it is an approachable way to reach the general public.


ARCore or ARKit?
Google is usually quite open in the development of technological innovations, they actually use the general public as beta testers. Apple has a more conservative way of working, they are waiting for the time to come to introduce a new feature.

Due to the minimal impact of both Google Tango and the Microsoft HoloLens, Apple suddenly convinced the world of Augmented Reality for mobile devices with the introduction of ARKit. When Google then quickly swept ARCore into the virtual world, it seemed like a copy, when in fact they were already much further than Apple. Technically, the two systems currently do not differ much from each other, although Apple has the advantage that they can exercise much more control over the available hardware.


End… or a new beginning?
With the end of Project Tango, Google does not stop developing Augmented Reality, they just adjust their ambitions. If the hardware permits and 3D scanning becomes affordable in a large area in mobile devices and “wearables”, the functions will undoubtedly return in the “new” ARCore platform.