In a move aimed at bolstering its share of the smartphone market, Lenovo is partnering with technology giant Google to produce a 3-D, augmented reality smartphone that promises to provide “a magic window into the physical world.”
Lenovo, the No. 4 maker of smartphones, announced late Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that it is developing, in collaboration with Google, the first smartphone using Google’s Project Tango technology. Lenovo is based in China but has a headquarters in Morrisville.
Development of the new phone, said spokeswoman Kristy Fair, will be spearheaded by Morrisville-based Jeff Meredith, general manager and vice president of tablets. The development work will be accomplished by mobile business group employees dispersed around the globe.
The new smartphone, which will be sold under the Lenovo brand, is scheduled to be available this summer.
Lenovo’s Motorola brand, which it acquired from Google in 2014, is available in the U.S., but Lenovo smartphones currently aren’t available here.
Lenovo spokeswoman Kristy Fair said she couldn’t comment on whether that would change when the new Project Tango phone is introduced.
“That’s far beyond the horizons of today’s announcement,” she said.
Advanced technology embedded in the new smartphone, Lenovo said in its announcement, will enable the device to react to the user’s every movement – forward, backward, side-to-side. That can be used to navigate through a shopping mall or immerse yourself in a virtual reality.
“Using the sensor in the device,” Lenovo said, “Project Tango devices can also capture the 3D dimensions of the room, giving measurements that can be used to help you when shopping for furniture or decorations.”
The announcement of Lenovo’s Project Tango smartphone, Fair said, is designed to stimulate enthusiasm among app developers, who are being encouraged to submit proposals for apps that take advantage of the technology, as well as among consumers and retailers.
Technology analyst Rob Enderle of The Enderle Group said that attracting app developers – which is difficult to do before a product hits the market – would be key to making the product a success.
“What we’re kind of looking for is that killer consumer implementation to take it to the broad market,” Enderle said.
Without such a “killer app” for consumers, he added, the appeal of Project Tango would be mostly limited to business users.
Take, for example, an electrician who needs to locate pipes or electrical lines within walls. That could be accomplished by “overlaying plans with the physical wall of the building, (so they) hold up their phone or their tablet ... and they can see what’s behind the wall without opening it up.”
Enderle said that the Project Tango technology “is not dissimilar” to Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, except that HoloLens is designed for headsets while Tango “is mostly designed for tablets and smartphones.”
Fair declined to discuss the business terms of the deal with Google, including whether Lenovo has an exclusive license or if other smartphone makers will be able to license the Project Tango technology.
Google spokesman Josh Cruz couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. But Enderle said that “other people are working [with] Tango, so clearly it’s a race to market.”