Lenovo announced a few new phones on Thursday, and one of the biggest-deal phones -- and also one of the physically biggest -- is the PHAB2 Pro, the first smartphone that incorporates Google's Tango technology to provide augmented reality as a phone feature. The Tango tech is a system of sensors and software that basically tells the phone where it is in any space. As a result, it can map items on to that space -- it's not a way to provide immersive virtual reality, but the Tango tech can augment reality by overlaying images and animations over real-world spaces.
I got a chance to play with the phone, seeing how animations can be summoned to caper over a space and seeing how to play a game in a blank area. The phone feels nice and it's easy to use. I liked being able to resize the animation with pinching and zooming, and to move my phone around to move the animation.
The augmented reality is fun. I was intrigued by how moving animations could be overlaid on any surface -- imagine using these sort of animations to teach someone how to properly clean a fish or use a router. Having a phone that knows exactly where it is will be pretty useful for spatial visualization.
(And perhaps someone will write the app that lets the phone tell you where it is when you misplace it.)
What's odd about this phone, however, is the size. It's big. The phone is nearly 3.5" inches across, and 7" long. I asked the gentleman who let me play with the phone how he carried his PHAB2 Pro around.
"I just put it in a pocket," he said.
Men's clothing generally have decent pockets. Women's pockets do not. So I followed up with, "Well, what about the women?"
"They just carry it in a purse most of the time."
Here's the thing: Sometimes, you are not in a purse-carrying situation, but you are in a situation where you need a phone. At this point, how are you supposed to carry your 7" long phone while also keeping your hands free while also wearing clothing that treats pockets like they're terribly inconvenient.
In the same keynote that introduced this giant, fun-to-use phone, there was a demo of a technology Lenovo's developing, a phone that users can wrap around their wrist. The lack of decent pockets in women's clothing is not necessarily tech's issue to solve -- after all, it's not the mobile hardware makers of the world who are responsible for designing and manufacturing clothing. But so long as this condition exists, perhaps these hardware designers can take a look at their users' real life constraints and design for those.
A 7" long phone? It'll be great for training or vocational uses where the augmented reality features will come in handy. But for an everyday phone? I'm looking forward to the wrist wraparound model.