Google's push to bring Augmented Reality to the masses hit a big milestone today with the launch of the "AR Stickers" app. Google has been doing Augmented Reality for some time now with the hardware-packed Project Tango devices, but AR Stickers is the first app in Google's new AR strategy, which revolves around ARCore. ARCore is a reworked augmented reality framework that can do many of the Tango AR tricks but without all the extra hardware.
AR Stickers is out now in the Play Store for the Pixel 1 and Pixel 2. The app is a new mode in the Google Camera that allows you to drop various 3D characters into the camera feed. ARCore will map out the nearest horizontal plane, like a floor or table, and ground the characters in real life. You can move the camera around, take pictures, and record video.
To get started, you'll need a Pixel phone, Android 8.1, and fresh versions of the ARCore framework and the AR Stickers app. Google has several OEMs signed up for ARCore compatibility, and when the framework hits version 1.0 sometime this winter, Google says it expects 100 million users to have access to the framework. For now though, ARCore is only on version 0.91, and it only works on the Pixel phones.
When you have everything updated, you'll be able to open the Google Camera, open the left navigation menu, and pick "AR Stickers" from the camera modes. You'll be presented with a camera feed and a row of characters at the top. After dragging a character into the feed, you can drag it around and use multi-touch gestures to resize it, rotate it, or move vertically up and down. You can pick from some of Google's food characters, floating 3D text, and licensed characters from Star Wars and Stranger Things.
I played around with the app for a bit, and ARCore does a great job of sticking characters to a surface. Characters really do seem anchored to the floor, and the effect even holds up when whipping the camera around or when moving to another room and coming back. A lighting engine makes the characters blend into the environment, and, even if you turn out the lights, they'll change to match whatever the lighting is. There's no support for occlusion, though. The AR renderings are always on top of the camera feed, so if something gets between you and the plane a character is on, the illusion is broken as the character floats on top of everything.
Characters don't really do much. Sometimes you'll get a laser blast from a Star Wars ship, or a droid will roll around. But not much else. Characters mostly cycle through a set of idle animations while you look at them. If you add two characters to a scene, sometimes things get interesting. The best one I've seen is what was demoed at Google's announcement event: plop down a Demogorgon and Eleven from the Stranger Things section and they will fight.
Google made the questionable move of building AR Stickers into the Android 8.1 system image. This makes distribution easy for Google since every Pixel phone will automatically download the whopping 100MB update to make the app work. But if, like me, you get bored of the app after 10 minutes, removing this storage hog is more difficult than it needs to be. You have to open up the system settings, head to "Apps & notifications," and then dig up "See all [xx] apps." From there, tap the menu button in the top right and hit "Show system." Just find the app called "com.google.vr.apps.ornament," tap on it, hit "disable," and tap through the prompts to uninstall the update files. You'll still be stuck with the disabled system app, but this is a tiny 155k stub file, which is way better than having the 100MB update forced on you.
Listing image by Google Pixel
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