Another week, another new smartphone from a Silicon Valley giant – it’s the turn of Google to reveal new versions of their acclaimed Pixel phone. And, like Apple’s recent reveal of the iPhone X and its cheaper siblings, the Pixel 2 is designed with augmented reality in mind, which makes it a Draw & Code kinda phone.
It was around a year ago that three of the team here kicked their iPhone habit and shacked up with Google. The original Pixel was sold on the virtual reality ticket; Google’s Daydream headset and development suite formed part of the appeal of switching from Cupertino’s dependable silicon slabs to Mountain View’s ambitious new device. In reality, Daydream VR was good but not the best, it turned out that the big appeal of the Pixel was its sophisticated camera. For years Android had lagged behind Apple on the photography front, but the Pixel boasted some of the richest phone photos yet seen thanks to an intelligent system that layered multiple images into one shot.
For the Pixel 2 and its big brother the Pixel 2 XL, the camera is still part of the attraction. However, things have moved on considerably and the Pixel is now bolstered with the ability to 3D scan its environment from a single lens. This should enable far more compelling and accurate augmented reality experiences, drawing on Google’s experience with Project Tango – the mobile 3D scanning technology that was drip fed to a primarily developer-focused audience in recent years.
For a while it’s been clear where Google have been heading with AR. It was during the 2014 AWE (Augmented World Expo) in Santa Clara that the Draw & Code crew had their first sneak-peak of Google’s mobile AR efforts – and it was entirely by accident. Our eagle-eyed tech director spotted a chap on a phone that appeared to have a very peculiar camera set up that he suspected was a 3D scanner of sorts. After some persuading, the phone’s keeper revealed it was an early augmented reality prototype at a time when Google had yet to show their hand at either AR or, indeed, building smartphones. It was clear something was brewing and it would be big. Like other immersive tech studios, we got our hands on Google’s Project Tango prototypes when they were distributed to developers, but we never saw another phone like the one spotted in a bar in Silicon Valley – until Pixel 2 that is.
With the release of Apple’s ARKit development tools prompting Google to get a move on and release their repost – ARCore. Having worked with both, it looks like ARCore has more potential in its current version according to our dev team, so this bodes well for some exciting apps that are tailored to the Pixel 2’s unique camera set-up.
As with all top-of-the-line smartphones, there are multiple features that are worth talking about on the Pixel 2. We haven’t even touched upon the headline-grabbing Pixel Buds headphones that incorporate Google Translate, an innovation that could have world-changing potential. The fact that the Pixel 2 boasts an OLED screen on a phone that undercuts its immediate rivals on price is something to be delighted about too. And the limitless cloud backup feature for those who buy the phone before 2020 is a boon. The mildly updated Google Daydream VR headset looks like a logical evolution of last year’s kit with better cooling for the phone and a slightly wider field of view – two of the key issues that mobile VR needs to address.
All in all, it’s hard to justify an iPhone X until we get to try the Pixel 2. And, more importantly for a company like Draw & Code, this is another massive step for taking augmented reality into the mainstream. Bring it on!