Pixel phones losing Playground AR stickers could just be the start

Google has had a rather unstable relationship with virtual and augmented reality, expressing belief and commitment one time and then simply dropping the ball the next. That has been the case especially for Google's VR efforts and it could be starting again with AR. While Google still seems to be committed to its ARCore platform, it is also apparently withdrawing some of its earlier AR experiences, starting with the whimsical but fun "Playmoji" AR stickers.

Initially called AR Stickers, Playground added a new mode to the Google Camera app that added the ability to add, well, AR stickers to your photos and videos. Playmojis, as they are called, demonstrated the power of Google's computer vision and AR algorithms, creating virtual creatures that not only looked at home in the real world but also reacted to your own facial expressions. It was also an opportunity to collaborate with brands and franchises, like stickers themed around Star Wars, Stranger Things, Detective Pikachu, and the like.

These Playmojis have been one of the exclusive perks of Google's Pixel line but apparently not anymore. Rather than actually spreading to other phones, Google has decided to cut it out completely, starting with the Pixel 4a and all future Pixel phones. The Playground app add-on can still be downloaded but you won't see that mode in the camera app anymore unless you're using an older Pixel phone.

Google's official explanation is that it will be focusing its AR efforts on experiences that serve a much wider audience. To be fair, it has indeed done that with its augmented Search results powered by ARCore. These, thankfully, are available not only a large number of Android phones but also on iPhones.

One can't help but worry, however, if that's as far as Google will go. Although AR goes beyond stickers or even floating planets and skeletons in your room, Google limiting its focus on the latter could douse any interest in taking the technology further. Without much third-party developer support and applications, phone-powered AR could very well be stuck at that use case until it slowly dies a silent death, just like Daydream.