Lenovo launches first phone to support Google's Tango AR

Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro. Image: Lenovo

Lenovo today launched the first phone to support Google’s Tango augmented reality technology.

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro sells for $500, is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 652 chip and runs Android Marshmallow. It includes four cameras including a 3D-sensing camera, and sensors that work in conjunction with Tango.

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.

“You can measure objects with just your phone,” according to a Lenovo web page touting the new phone. “Or visualize furniture like a new table or sofa to see how it looks in your home. Or simply play with your virtual pet.”

Google is clearly betting heavily that users will find augmented reality compelling. The company has been actively encouraging developers to build Tango-enabled apps, and roughly three dozen apps already support the platform.

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 several weeks ago 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.”

The Phab 2 Pro isn’t likely to appeal to many mainstream smartphone users: While the price point is attractive compared to high-end phones, most consumers are likely to find its size impractical, and one reviewer said the user experience is still a bit “rough around the edges.”

As the first Tango-enabled phone, though, the Phab 2 Pro looks to be an important step forward for a technology that is likely to have a big impact on the mobile world. Expect to see more Tango-enabled devices come to market next year as Google’s AR platform picks up steam.