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Google to Make Major Augmented Reality Push at Mobile World Congress (EXCLUSIVE)

Google is set to make a major push to bring augmented reality technology (AR) to Android at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week, Variety has learned from sources familiar with the company’s plans. Central to these efforts will be the release of the company’s ARCore framework, which will allow third-party developers to bring AR apps to Android phones.

Google first announced ARCore in August, and has since tested preview versions of the technology on its own Pixel phones. The company said last year that it wanted to bring ARCore to 100 million phones in the near future. A source told Variety that Google now plans to hit that goal by March by bringing ARCore to phones from key Android partners. Google didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Some of the first devices to receive the ARCore update will likely include Samsung’s Galaxy flagship phones. The two companies announced last year that they were working together to bring “immersive new experiences for consumers” to Samsung phones, including the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy Note8, and Samsung S8 phones already run a recent developer preview version of ARCore.

Mobile AR has gotten a lot of attention ever since Apple announced its own take on the technology, dubbed ARKit, at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June. ARCore and ARKit both use a similar approach to bring augmented reality to mobile phones: Making use of a phone’s camera as well as other phone sensors, these technologies map a room and then track the position of a phone within that room.

This makes it possible to place virtual objects on top of a phone’s camera view of said room, and then have these virtual objects behave like real objects would. Walk up closer to a AR object, and it becomes bigger. Move it, and its shadow moves as well.

Google recently used this technology on its own Pixel phones to let people take videos with virtual stormtroopers. The company also released two developer preview versions of the technology, but hasn’t allowed third-party developers to publish their ARCore apps on the Play Store yet. It will open the floodgates for ARCore apps on the Play Store coinciding with the upcoming release of ARCore 1.0.

Google has been working on mobile AR technology for some time. ARCore was preceded by Tango, an experimental technology that only ran on a small number of phones with advanced camera sensors. The company recently announced that it would end support for Tango at the end of March, and now plans to tell Tango developers to focus on ARCore instead.

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