While Apple and Samsung have started integrating depth sensors into the iPad Pro and Galaxy smartphones, more advanced AR experiences are arriving for standard smartphone cameras on Android devices.
Earlier this month, Niantic began rolling out updates for Pokémon GO that add more realistic AR encounters with pocket monsters for select Android devices before expanding to iOS. Now, Google has updated its Depth API for ARCore to bring occlusion, or the ability for AR objects to blend into their physical environments, to Android apps. And there are already six apps available now where you can experience the evolved AR for yourself.
There are a couple of prerequisites before you get started with these apps. First, you'll want to make sure that you have a compatible smartphone by checking Google's list of supported devices. (If not, there's a workaround if you like living dangerously.) Second, that handset needs to be running version 1.18 of Google Play Services for AR, which landed on Google Play on June 9.
- Play Store Link: Google Play Services for AR
App 1: Google Search
Google debuted the Depth API as a preview in December. Its guinea pig for the capability has been Google Search, which uses the Scene Viewer protocol for web-based AR content.
- Play Store Link: Google (free)
There's a wide range of content that you can view in AR through search, including animals, spacecraft, planets, branded products, the human anatomy, and more. Check out the post below for more details on how to find AR content through Google Search.
App 2: Snapchat
2020 has been a wild year in more ways than one. The latest example comes from Snapchat on Android, which has long been the redheaded stepchild compared to the iPhone edition. However, now Android is actually getting an exclusive Lens that takes advantage of the Depth API.
- Play Store Link: Snapchat (free)
The Undersea World Lens submerges your physical surroundings in a virtual ocean, with a starfish following your gaze and affixing itself to the floor, walls, or other objects in its view, plants sprouting on top of and behind furniture, and schools of fish and menacing sharks swimming to and fro.
Click here to open a Snapcode to scan if you're reading this on a desktop or access the Lens directly if you're already on a mobile device with Snapchat installed.
Google also teased an enhanced version of the infamous Dancing Hotdog Lens, but it does not appear to have any occlusion abilities at the moment. These are just the beginning, as Snapchat has made a Depth API template available in Lens Studio for creators to make their own immersive experiences.
App 3: Depth Lab
More of a proof of concept than a functioning app, Depth Lab from Google shows off the depth (no pun intended) and breadth of what ARCore's computer vision is now capable of.
- Play Store Link: ARCore Depth Lab (free)
The app houses 14 experiments. You can view depth maps, cover your surroundings in various textures, or fill your room with fog. You can throw virtual balloons that splatter realistically on surfaces or 3D shapes that can bounce off of walls. You can follow a laser as it bounces off of floors, walls, and tables.
But arguably the coolest of the experiences is Avatar, which brings a floating robot into your camera view. After placing the robot, you can drop anchors in your space for the robot to retrieve. Place an anchor on a wall, and the robot ascends to grab it. Hide the anchor behind a series of obstacles, and the robot will hurdle those objects to achieve its objective.
App 4: Houzz
Like Ikea Play, Houzz lets you preview furniture in your home before buying it. Actually, when Apple launched ARKit, Houzz shipped its AR app before Ikea did.
- Play Store Link: Houzz (free)
Here, Houzz is again an early adopter, gaining early access to the Depth API ahead of its December preview. Occlusion is a good fit for this app, allowing home dwellers to view how chairs, couches, and the like look alongside existing items, like, say, a desk.
App 5: Five Nights at Freddy's AR: Special Delivery
From startup Illumix, this AR game is one of the more impressive Pokémon GO clones out there, leveraging the popular Five Nights at Freddy's franchise. Instead of catching pocket monsters, you search your surroundings for supernatural animatronics before they jump scare all over you.
With the Depth API, the creepy characters from Freddy's world can hide behind real world objects before they pop out and frighten you.
- Play Store Link: Five Nights at Freddy's AR: Special Delivery (free)
App 6: Teamviewer Pilot
One of the more immediately useful applications for AR has been in the enterprise world. There are a plethora of platforms that enable remote experts to see the camera view of a colleague or customer for the purpose of technical support. AR lets these remote experts draw on and add guidance prompts for, say, rebooting a router.
- Play Store Link: Teamviewer Pilot (free)
Teamviewer Pilot fits in this genre. Now, with the Depth API, remote experts can annotate scenes more precisely. For example, an arrow pointing to the front of the router would stay there when the colleague or customer shifts to the rear of it. In the image below, you can see the arrow blend slightly with the laptop's keyboard.
Honorable Mention: Pokémon GO
As we noted earlier, Niantic has also added more immersive AR to Pokémon GO with a feature called Reality Blending. However, instead of Google's Depth API, Niantic uses its own AR technology, called Niantic Real World Platform, to enable occlusion for the game.
Reality Blending began rolling out to select Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy smartphones, but it will eventually arrive on iPhones as well. Eventually, Niantic will enable other developers to use Real World as well.
- Play Store Link: Pokemon GO (free)
There are more experiences arriving at a later date. For instance, Google has promised an experiment called Lines of Play that lets you line up virtual dominoes and, as you topple them, the dominoes react in kind to real world obstacles.
Quick Measure for the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ and Galaxy S20 Ultra will adopt the Depth API "in the coming months," according to a Google blog post. While the Depth API can work with a standard smartphone camera, depth sensors actually improve the experience, and that's where Samsung will get to demonstrate this.
Later on in the year, developers Reality Crisis and ForwARdgames are preparing a pair of AR games. The former is working on SKATRIX, where players can guide a virtual skater through a virtual skate park. The latter's offering involves painting your environment in digital color.
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