Google brings its ARCore technology to China in partnership with Xiaomi

Google is ramping up its efforts to return to China. Earlier this year, the search giant detailed plans to bring its ARCore technology — which enables augmented reality and virtual reality — to phones in China and this week that effort went live with its first partner, Xiaomi.

Initially the technology will be available for Xiaomi’s Mix 2S devices via an app in the Xiaomi App Store, but Google has plans to add more partners in Mainland China over time. Huawei and Samsung are two confirmed names that have signed up to distribute ARCore apps on Chinese soil, Google said previously.

Google’s core services remain blocked in China but ARCore apps are able to work there because the technology itself works on device without the cloud, which means that once apps are downloaded to a phone there’s nothing that China’s internet censors can do to disrupt them.

Rather than software, the main challenge is distribution. The Google Play Store is restricted in China, and in its place China has a fragmented landscape that consists of more than a dozen major third-party Android app stores. That explains why Google has struck deals with the likes of Xiaomi and Huawei, which operate their own app stores which — pre-loaded on their devices — can help Google reach consumers.

ARCore in action

The ARCore strategy for China, while subtle, is part of a sustained push to grow Google’s presence in China. While that hasn’t meant reviving the Google Play Store — despite plenty of speculation in the media — Google has ramped up in other areas.

In recent months, the company has struck a partnership with Tencent, agreed to invest in a number of China-based startups — including biotech-focused XtalPi and live-streaming service Chushou — and announced an AI lab in Beijing. Added to that, Google gained a large tech presence in Taiwan via the completion of its acquisition of a chunk of HTC, and it opened a presence in Shenzhen, the Chinese city known as ‘the Silicon Valley of hardware.’

Finally, it is also hosting its first ‘Demo Day’ program for startups in Asia with an event planned for Shanghai, China, this coming September. Applications to take part in the initiative opened last week.

Google wants to bring multiplayer AR to iOS and Android with its new Cloud Anchors tool

Multiplayer has been one of the huge limitations of early smartphone AR platforms, it’s a tough thing to tackle and relies on a lot of computer vision smarts to match what one user’s phone is seeing with another’s to create a shared virtual space. Google is tackling this problem. Onstage at I/O today, VR exec Nathan Martz announced Cloud Anchors, a tool for matching up users’ AR experiences with each other in real time.

“With Cloud Anchors, we actually allow multiple devices to generate a shared, synchronized understanding of the world so that multiple phones can see and interact with the exact same digital content in the same place at the same time,” Martz said onstage.

Now, what we didn’t see is what this setup process actually looks like and how involved it will be for users to match up what the digital environments. What’s pretty surprising is that it won’t just be Android phones matching up with Cloud Anchors, Google says they’ve built iOS support for the feature as well.

While Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore duking it out to become the most technically advanced augmented reality developer’s platform, it seems that for the time being Google has taken a big leap ahead though WWDC is just a few weeks away and multiplayer AR is an expected announcement. Though ARKit was first to market, after several months in preview, Google launched ARCore in February on 13 different phones which the company said accounted for about 100 million devices.

Cloud Anchors is available for developers to play with now.

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