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China’s smartphone giant Oppo ratchets up AR push

Tech companies around the world are still identifying the “next big thing” enabled by 5G connections. Some, such as Oppo, are betting it will be augmented reality.

The Chinese smartphone firm showcased its progress in AR at a Tuesday event swarmed by hundreds of reporters, analysts, and partners in Shenzhen. Green strobe light, the color of its brand, beamed as vice president Liu Chang unveiled the Oppo AR Glass 2021, a lightweight headset slightly chunkier than regular glasses.

Still in the concept phase, the headset comes with fisheye cameras, tracks hands in milliseconds, and can supposedly simulate the experience of watching a 90-inch screen from three meters away.

The concept product is the result of Oppo’s three-year-plan, unveiled last year, to spend 50 billion yuan ($7.62 billion) on futuristic tech including AR.

Smartphone makers from Xiaomi to Huawei are embracing AR as they design headsets that can tether to smartphones, taking advantage of the latter’s computing power. The Oppo AR Glass 2021, for instance, is designed to link to the Oppo Find X2 Pro which contains a Snapdragon 865 chipset.

It’s unclear when Oppo’s AR glasses will hit the shelf, but the firm is actively building the ecosystem needed for mass-market adoption, from working with content providers like video streaming site iQiyi to launching a developer initiative next year to make development tools widely available.

At the same event, Oppo also flaunted a concept phone with a “scrolling” OLED screen that could make an alternative to existing foldable phones. Oppo declined to disclose who the display maker is.

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Google pulls the plug on Expeditions VR app, migrates tours to Arts & Culture

Google today announced that it is ending support for Expeditions. The VR app will also be pulled from its own Play Store and Apple’s App Store in June of next year. In a blogpost somewhat confusingly titled, “Expanding Google Arts and Culture with Expeditions,” the company notes the 360-degree tours captured for the project will survive — but will be moved to Google Arts & Culture.

Director of Program Management, Education, Jennifer Holland, says the decision was made to make the content more accessible to students and educators.

“Engaging students in the classroom has taken on an entirely different meaning this year. As schools around the world reimagine education from the ground up for a hybrid world, we’ve also been thinking deeply about how to adjust our tools to meet the moment and simultaneously build for the future,” she writes. “We’ve heard and recognize that immersive experiences with VR headsets are not always accessible to all learners and even more so this year, as the transition to hybrid learning has presented challenges for schools to effectively use Expeditions.”

The content will be included alongside Arts & Culture’s museum tours and other content, available for free to all users. That, at least, is a small win for teachers and parents who have struggled to keep up kids’ education in the face of a pandemic that has contributed to major school closures.

Notably, the news comes a little over a month after Google announced it would be ending support for the ill-fated Daydream VR platform. Launched four years ago, the project was an effort to bring low-cost virtual reality that failed to reach its potential.

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