Lenovo Group Ltd. unveiled the first smartphone based on Google’s Project Tango, a technology designed to measure and map surrounding objects and spaces.
The Chinese company also announced an initiative to deliver a new line of modular smartphones, stemming from its 2014 purchase of Motorola Mobility. Lenovo unveiled new Moto Z handsets that will feature interchangeable snap-on modules, starting with an extra speaker, a projector for presentations and an expanded internal battery.
Lenovo said it hoped to spur other companies to offer many new “Moto Mods,” as the company calls them.
Lenovo, which has been battling market-share losses and other problems in the smartphone business, is hoping the new models will stand out in a crowded field of products that look and work largely the same.
“We don’t think that is good enough anymore,” said Yang Yuanqing, Lenovo’s chief executive, referring to me-too offerings in a keynote address at a large technology showcase here. He said the new products introduced Thursday “have created a new era for the smartphone and Lenovo.”
Google disclosed the Tango effort in early 2014, and its relationship with Lenovo was disclosed in January. The technology uses arrays of cameras, sensors and software to create three-dimensional models of indoor spaces and track the user’s motions through them.
The companies described a set of augmented reality experiences that range from games—superimposing animated objects on video images seen on a smartphone screen—to measuring objects in stores and seeing how they fit in a simulated room in the home.
Lenovo also showed two unusual prototypes a smartphone whose display and other components were flexible enough to wrap around a user’s wrist to act like a smartwatch, and a tablet with a flexible display folded in half to be used as a phone. The company didn’t give any details as to whether or when the prototypes would be sold as products, but the demonstrations underscored Lenovo’s determination to bring innovations to mobile devices.
“It turns your phone into virtual measuring tape,” said Johnny Lee, Google’s project lead on the effort, citing the benefits of avoiding purchasing goods that don’t fit as planned. “That can be a very expensive mistake.”
One early partner is home improvement retailer Lowe’s Cos., which has developed a Tango-based app that lets users see how appliances, counter tops and other products would look in a room before bringing them home. The company said Thursday it will carry the Phab2 Pro in its stores during the holiday season.
Google has described other benefits such as showing smartphone users simulated footsteps to direct them to stores in a mall or to store shelves where items might be found.
Lenovo’s Phab2 Pro has four cameras, including one designed to help perceive depth, as well as motion-tracking technology. It would be available in September for $499 on an unlocked basis without carrier subsidies.
The new Moto Z and Moto Mods efforts were explained onstage by actor Ashton Kutcher,who has been helping the company design products since 2013. He said conventional approaches to hardware development can saddle phones with technology features that not all users want, adding unnecessarily to the price.
Moto Z, which comes in a model with a shatter-resistant screen, first will be available in the summer over Verizon Communications Inc.’s U.S. network. It will later be available on an unlocked basis. Pricing wasn’t immediately disclosed.
Any excitement the new products generate would be welcome to Lenovo, which recently reported that smartphone shipments fell 13% in the fiscal year ended in March. The company last month acknowledged that it underestimated the difficulty of integrating the Motorola Mobility business that Lenovo purchased for $2.91 billion from Google.
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