I’ve covered the smartphone industry long enough to know that when someone touts a new phone capability as the next must-have feature, they’re most likely wrong. Yet I recently wrote a story that proclaims Google’s Tango technology as just that.
What is Tango? And what’s so great about it?
Tango is tough to describe pithily. In my article, which you can read online here and in MIT Technology Review’s September/October 2016 issue, I call it a location-sensing system — one that combines special sensors with an accelerometer, gyroscope, and regular camera to enable mobile devices to detect exactly where they are in physical space. Tango also involves software — basically, a bunch of algorithms that gather and crunch data from all these components. So, it’s a hardware and software system/platform that enables phones and tablets to perceive their location in a manner that’s more similar to the way we (humans) do.
Tango has been in the works at Google for nearly four years and will be available to consumers (in the form of a Lenovo smartphone) this winter.
Another way to think of Tango is as an indoor version of GPS. Tango has the ability to help users navigate places where GPS signals don’t reach, such as deep inside museums, shopping malls, and subway stations. Tango devices can also display augmented reality images in a very realistic way, which makes it an ideal technology for immersive games, as well as interactive educational and shopping apps. The American Museum of Natural History has already developed an app using Tango that allows users to view digital/virtual, life-size versions of dinosaurs and learn key facts about them. Similarly, the retailers Lowe’s and Wayfair have Tango-enabled shopping apps that let you place digital/virtual, life-size pieces of furniture in your home to see how they would look and fit.
Perhaps the most useful Tango app is a Google-made one that turns Tango devices into virtual tape measures. Users can measure objects in 1D, 2D, and 3D just by pointing the sensors in their Tango phones at the objects’ corners. The app draws virtual lines that connect the points and then automatically calculates the distances between them.
There’s a lot more I could say about Tango, but the gist is that it enables a broad range of apps that span both practical and entertaining uses. And these apps have capabilities that have never been possible before. That’s why I think Tango is the next must-have smartphone feature. (For a lot more on Tango, please read my story!)