Last night at CES 2016, Lenovo and Google held a special joint event to announce that a smartphone using Google’s Project Tango technology is in production and currently scheduled for a summer release. Project Tango ventures more deeply into the world of augmented reality than we’re used to seeing, and while it might not be HoloLens, it could be an interesting handset that might influence the production of future devices.
Despite the targeted summer release date, the handset is still too early in development for there to be a finished production model to look at or finalized specs to go over. Instead, we got a demo of what this smartphone will be capable of when it hits the market. Using an array of camera on the back, including a primary camera, a depth-sensing camera, and a wide-angle fisheye camera, the phone (which will almost certainly need a next-gen processor) will be able to scan the environment and both take in and produce extra information about the world around us.
One demo involved the phone measuring the dimensions of a room just with the data taken in by the cameras. By itself, that’s not too compelling, but there are some interesting use cases that could make this phone a niche hit. During the demonstration, a partnership with Lowe’s was mentioned, which would allow you to virtually drop pieces of furniture into your apartment to see how they would fit.
With motion tracking and more awareness of surroundings, this phone could also make navigation easier indoors. A major theme of the presentation was the ease of navigating streets juxtaposed with the difficulty of navigating a large building when you need to find a specific aisle or room. Using augmented reality, you could get turn-by-turn directions through malls, office buildings, and convention centers just as easily as you would for streets and highways.
Of course, that’s just the beginning. Like it is with any platform, Project Tango will live and die with developers, and with augmented reality, it’s easy to see a lot of opportunity out there — in fact, aspiring developers can submit proposals directly to Google now. The handset itself is still in development, but according to the presentation, it will be smaller than 6.5″ and will cost less than $500. We’re not sure if it’ll be a hit in its own right — it’s tough to pull that off with fresh tech — but we’re pretty excited to see what Project Tango is going to mean to smartphone development in the next few years.