Disruptive? Or damp squib?

Welcome to the great indoors

The first smartphone with indoor mapping technology is out this month. The strangely titled Lenovo Phab 2 Pro will create detailed indoor maps via motion sensors and depth trackers that help the phone “understand” the surroundings.

And, The Verge reports, it’s accurate to a few centimetres - without the need for GPS, wireless or Bluetooth - thanks to Google’s Tango augmented reality tech. In other words, every nook and cranny inside a building can now be charted. And so we ask: Damp squib technology? Or replete with disruptive opportunities?

We reckon impact will be felt most keenly in three main areas…

Firstly, retail...

Ever dreaded a trip to a stuffy, overcrowded showroom to choose a big ticket item such as a sofa? Thought so. We’ve all been there. Tango could spell the end of such misery.


Engadget reports the technology has been adopted by American company Lowe’s, which sells home appliances, and its rival Wayfair. Both retailers have apps allowing users to virtually place catalogue items in a smartphone picture to judge if they work size and style-wise. Tango therefore opens a raft of possibilities for the online sale of items that would have traditionally been inspected in-store.

Intelligent promotions

Next, promotional advertising. Martin Byrne of Dublin-based ad company Zoo Digital believes Tango will have a profound effect on the industry as ads will be tailored not only to the consumer’s own preferences, but to their location. He says: “Tango can scan the environment and 'know' exactly where it is. If it knows you're coming up to the coffee kiosk in the shopping mall it can push a promotional voucher to you. Essentially you're using Tango to link your physical space to the online world.”

Techradar reports shoppers will soon be using Tango to find their way around supermarkets, which Byrne believes will be quick to pick up on the resulting promotional opportunities. He says: “I can see stores creating games where passing through a series of places on the shop floor will unlock offers or prizes. Location-based ads could guide you to the exact shelf placement of a product that’s been reduced.”

Lifelike dinosaurs

Thirdly, education. Techradar called Tango “The Ultimate Museum Piece” for its ability to enhance a museum visit not just by directing users to exhibits, but because it can replace small information plaques with moving images and greater detail. This “better engages children, while teaching them more effectively about what they're seeing.”

Tango’s projection of lifelike images and data into a real-life environment has obvious uses in the classroom too. For example, Sputniknews reports kids studying dinosaurs will be able to conjure up a realistic likeness, together with interesting facts and figures. Suddenly learning sounds a whole lot more fun.

Crisis of confidence

Disruption is all very well, but some commentators have raised concerns about Tango potentially compromising privacy. For example, some companies might want to maintain confidentiality over their building’s layout, even though it can now be charted by anyone with an appropriate handset.

Blair MacIntyre, director of the Augmented Environments Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, is sympathetic.

Streetview fuore

He says: “Google Maps already has indoor maps of some premises, when the owners provide them.  Doing this will be easier with Tango, since the owner of a shopping centre or museum or other public building can create the maps much more easily. However, I wonder how they will make it possible to share internal mapping of buildings in a way that is both easy and respects the privacy and preferences of buildings’ owners.”

MacIntyre has a point, but let’s not forget the initial furore that greeted Google Streetview’s launch in 2007. For the most part the controversy has died down, and the resource is widely used. So when Technology Review calls Tango “the next smartphone must-have feature”, they’re probably right. Tango has opened the door to a new way of doing business and firms keen to disrupt just have to step inside.


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