Augmented reality is about more than just catching Pokemon. WSJ's Nathan Olivarez-Giles tries out new retail apps for phones equipped with Google's Tango camera.
When you hear “augmented reality,” you likely think of people holding out their smartphones to catch little Pokémon creatures. But while the smartphone game “Pokémon Go” remains one of AR’s few breakthrough hits , a new crop of AR apps from major retailers shows just how useful “mixed reality” technology will be in the future.
Amazon.com Inc.’s Product Preview lets you visualize different size and brand TVs in your home. Home-improvement retailer Lowe’s Co. has made Lowe’s Vision, which can take measurements and virtually place new appliances in your kitchen. Others, such as WayfairView, let you see how a new chair, table, couch or cabinet will fit in with your existing furniture.
Another new AR retail app with great potential appeal is DressingRoom by Gap Inc. Due Jan. 30 in the Google Play, it will let you place virtual mannequins around a room, outfitted with different clothing options.
DressingRoom by Gap Inc. lets you get close to its virtual mannequins to get a better look at fabric details, buttons and embroidery. PHOTO: EMILY PRAPUOLENIS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
These apps don’t run on iPhones, however. Or any other standard smartphone, for that matter. They rely on a depth-sensing, motion-tracking camera system called Tango, developed by Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Lenovo Group Ltd.’s Phab 2 Pro is the only Tango-equipped phone currently on the market. Later this year, Asus will sell ZenFone AR, another Tango phone. Google says more are on the way, but couldn’t say how many will arrive this year.
Tango uses three cameras to determine the size of the room you are standing in, and where people and furniture are around you. While the technology isn’t yet good enough to guide a blind person (not that Google hasn’t tried), Tango can already scan a human being’s body to create a 3-D avatar, said Ari Bloom, chief executive of Avametric, the startup that built the Gap app.
Phones with Google's Tango technology use a three-camera system built to power augmented reality apps.PHOTO: EMILY PRAPUOLENIS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Only Gap’s app won’t do that.
“People aren’t yet totally comfortable with scanning their own body, either naked or in their underwear,” Mr. Bloom said. “What we’ve seen is a lot of people scanning themselves in whatever clothes they have on, and then being disappointed.”
Instead, DressingRoom lets you choose different size mannequins. You can’t even enter your weight or exact measurements. Mr. Bloom said the app’s limitations exist in an effort to not overwhelm users with too much customization.
DressingRoom by Gap lets you use a Tango phone to see how clothes will look, on virtual mannequins. PHOTO:EMILY PRAPUOLENIS/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Gil Krakowsky, Gap Inc.’s vice president of global strategy & business development, said one of the main goals of the Tango app was to keep things easy. New features will come later, based on user feedback.
“Retail, especially fashion, isn’t usually an early adopter when it comes to tech,” Mr. Krakowsky said. “This is a bit of a bet on AR. We think AR will be big in the future, and on lots of phones at some point, and we want to be there for our customers, rather than playing catch-up later.”