Leaked Asus phone highlights growing importance of augmented reality

Asus' inadvertantly released announcement touted the Zenphone's AR and VR capabilities, noting it was ready to support Google's Daydream and Tango platforms. Image: @evleaks

Qualcomm inadvertently unveiled Asus’ new Tango-enabled smartphone when it issued a press release ahead of a scheduled announcement later this week.

The release, which appears to have been pulled back and now leads to a page on Qualcomm’s site featuring only an error message, touted the Asus ZenFone AR, as 9to5Google was among the first to report. The phone is said to be the first to support both Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform and Tango, Google’s VR initiative.

The announcement appears to have been dated Jan. 4.

“At CES 2017, Asus announced the ZenFone AR, the world’s first Tango-enabled smartphone to be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor,” Qualcomm’s statement said, according to 9to5Google. “It will also be the world’s first mobile device to be both Tango-enabled and Daydream-ready. Tango is a set of sensors and computer vision software that supports smartphone augmented reality experiences. Daydream is Google’s platform for high quality, mobile virtual reality.”

Asus’ upcoming phone will be the second device to support Tango, coming on the heels of Lenovo’s November launch of its $500 Phab 2 Pro. That phone features four cameras including a 3D-sensing camera, as well as sensors that work in conjunction with Tango.

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Google unveiled Project Tango in February 2014 with the aim of using a prototype phone and the ingenuity of developers to use 3D scanning technology to build maps and models of physical locations. The company has touted a variety of use cases for its VR, from gaming—perhaps the most obvious application—to providing step-by-step navigation to a visually impaired user in unfamiliar places.

Qualcomm didn’t disclose detailed specs or pricing for Asus’ phone but did say that it will support Google’s VR apps including Street View, YouTube and Netflix, as well as VR-enabled games. The chip vendor also said future Snapdragon 800 and 600 series processors will support Tango.

Augmented reality and virtual reality are expected to play large roles in both the consumer and enterprise smartphone markets in the coming years. IDC recently predicted the market for augmented reality and virtual reality will grow from $5.2 billion this year to more than $162 billion in 2020, with smartphones playing a large role in that growth.

"Now with powerful smartphones powering inexpensive VR headsets, the consumer market is primed for new paid and user generated content-driven experiences,” IDC’s Chris Chute said late last year in a prepared statement. “Recent developments in healthcare demonstrated the powerful impact augmented reality headsets can have at the industry level, and over the next five years we expect to see that promise become realized in other fields like education, logistics, and manufacturing.”