AR Content is Coming to Google Maps, But It Won’t Matter Until There’s a Headset to See it Through


AR Content is Coming to Google Maps, But It Won’t Matter Until There’s a Headset to See it Through

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AR Content is Coming to Google Maps, But It Won’t Matter Until There’s a Headset to See it Through

Google today announced it’s starting a pilot program that will soon allow select partners to create AR content and display it within Google Maps. While it seems like an important step for Google on the way to owning a piece of the ‘all-day AR glasses’ future, it’s unclear just where it’s all headed for the company in the near term. Because compared to Meta and Apple, Google still seems unable to commit to a coherent XR strategy.

Starting in Singapore and Paris later this year, Google is essentially elevating content built in its Geospatial Creator platform to the world stage, as it will soon allow select partners to publish their AR content connected to physical landmarks via Google Maps, which you can view through both Lens and Street View.

The hope, it seems, is it get mobile users engaged with AR content by searching for a location in Google Maps and holding your phone up at landmarks, shops, etc. Some of the examples seen in the video below include cultural and historical stuff, but also virtual billboards for private businesses, presenting something of a low poly Blade Runner vibe.

It’s a pretty neat showcase for tourist boards to get behind, and a cool Easter egg for Google Maps users too, but it’s difficult to imagine it will ever be more than that, at least on mobile devices.

While we use our phones for everything, mobile AR applications are neither as immersive as the promo video suggests, nor additive enough yet to really engage with for any meaningful amount of time before the glass rectangle goes back in your pocket or bag. That’s why so many companies are pinning their hopes on functional AR glasses for all-day use; it will remove that frictional boundary and put that AR layer much closer to the forefront to both users and the advertisers trying to reach them.

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And as you’d imagine, there was little in the way of XR at Google’s I/O developer conference this year—unfortunately expected after the company canned its AR glasses Project Iris last summer, which also saw the resignations of top leadership, including AR & VR chief Clay Bavor, and head of XR operating systems Mark Lucovsky.

At the time, Lucovsky maintained in an X post his departure was heavily influenced by “changes in AR leadership and Google’s unstable commitment and vision.”

That’s not to say Google isn’t doing XR stuff, but it all still feels like it’s following the company’s usual brand of scattershot Darwinism. We heard about more incremental updates to ARCore, its developer platform for building AR experiences which was initially released in 2017. We heard about how its light field video chatting tech Project Starline will soon become an actual product.

We also got a quick glimpse of a very Project Iris-style device in a video (seen below), which the company simply calls “a prototype glasses device.”

The demo was more about highlighting the company’s research in computer vision and AI assistants with Project Astra though, as there’s no word on what those glasses are beyond that description. Given what we saw, it appears the device is more like a pair of Google Glass-style smartglasses than AR glasses as such. Learn more about the difference here.

The short of it: smartglasses can do things like feed you AI assistant stuff, play music, and show you static information, i.e. not spatial data like 3D models that blend in naturally with the physical landscape. That would require significantly more compute, battery, and more powerful optics than those prototype glasses could hope to provide, which means no interactive maps or more immersive version of Pokémon Go either.

Most of all, we’re still waiting to hear about the Samsung+Google partnership that might bring a Vision Pro competitor from Samsung. Most importantly though, it will be Google’s next big stab at launching an Android-based XR operating system following its now defunct Daydream platform.

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