Virtual and Augmented Reality have trickled down to the smartphone

26th July 2017
Virtual and Augmented  Reality have trickled down to the smartphone

VR here --  on your phone!
By   Vishnu Anand
Bangalore, July 26 2017: Till fairly recently,  Virtual Reality -- the computer simulation of 3-D imagery  which immerses users and let them control it -- and Augmented Reality -- enhancing the physical world with simulated  sound, video and graphics -- were  out-of-reach options.  After the first wave which included the flop Google Glass and the insanely-priced Oculus, things   became  more sensible; but the equipment was -- literally -- heavy handed. Now in recent weeks, the technology is finally trickling down to the rest of us, on the one  must-have device, the smart phone.
Last week, Asus brought the Zenfone AR to India -- the  world's first smartphone that is both VR and AR-ready.   It does this by cannily enabling two technologies  from Google:  the phone works with the   recently launched Google Daydream View VR  headset. It also incorporates the Tango standard to make it ready for Augmented Reality. This means it can  track motion,  gauge distances and establish one's precise position in the physical world.
The phone achieves  this with a Tricam system of three rear cameras: a standard 23 MP high resolution camera, augmented with another for motion tracking and a third for depth sensing.  Together they enable the Zenfone AR to   keep track of its location as the user moves it in a three-dimensional space.  The phone augments the depth camera with infra red laser ( as in a TV remote) and converts the time taken to  hit an object and bounce back, into distance.
For true AR, you need superior image display and audio -- and this phone provides,  with a 5.7 inch  better-than-2K HD  super AMOLED  display (1440 by 2660 pixels) and theatre-quality DTS sound.   AR  imagery calls for heavy number crunching  and the phone has huge memory to do it -- 8GB. The 128 GB of storage,  you can expand to  2TB,  more than what most desktop PCs offer. The Qualcomm quad Snapdragon  processor is optimized for AR/VR and the operating system is the latest Android 7.0. The dual SIM  4G LTE phone has all its muscle power in the rear: the front camera   has  a fairly standard  wide angle 8 MP lens.
We  put the Zenfone AR through its AR  paces with some typical use cases for work and play. We could measure the precise dimensions of furniture; 'insert'  3-D images of a new sofa and see exactly how it would look in an existing room.  Only  handful of free apps to do all this,  are available at the Google  Tango website. But we can expect to see a lot more in the Play Store as more devices are AR/VR  ready. As of now other than   the Asus Zenfone AR,   only  the Lenovo Phab 2 works with Tango.   Other  Daydream VR-ready phones are  Moto Z and Google's Pixel phone. Samsung Galaxy S8 is slated to get a software update that will also qualify. But Zenfone AR is the only device today, that is both  AR and VR-ready to the  Daydream-Tango standards. 
In the months, to come we can expect a growing list of handsets to offer owners the ability to slip away into  a seamless  world,  switching  at will between  the real and the virtual.   Here's to  interesting -- if confusing -- times!