Behind the Curtain of Making the Phab 2 Pro

The Lenovo Phab 2 Pro is now available in stores and online. Taking the world’s first Tango-enabled smartphone from conception and development and into the hands of our users has truly been an amazing journey.

Let’s flash back to early 2014. The concepts of VR and AR were on the brink of a consumer explosion. We at Lenovo have been interested in the VR and AR space for some time now, but didn’t want to jump the gun with a device that wouldn’t be practical or useful for everyday consumers. Virtual reality gave us some ideas on how we wanted to bring the value of VR/AR technology to consumers. But we knew that the technology had be part of something you already used every day– something that would be seamless and easy to integrate into technology you’re already familiar with.

Fast forward to Lenovo Tech World in June, when we launched the Phab 2 Pro. Our ultimate goal with the Phab 2 Pro was to create a smartphone first, featuring VR/AR capabilities second. What we got was a powerful device with all the specs and features of a great smartphone, paired with next-generation technology.

Finding the Right Partner
One of the most important criteria for adoption was developing the right app ecosystem to allow for enough meaningful VR and AR experiences. We therefore wanted a partner who could help drive this ecosystem and get developers excited about the technology. It didn’t take long for us to find one in Google.

From there, we set a goal of becoming the first smartphone provider to launch a consumer Tango-enabled smartphone.

Along the Development Path
We came across more than our fair share of challenges in our development phase, and there were a few moments where we almost hit a wall. Essentially, we needed to convert what was being done in tablets into a phone, without compromising on the functionality of the device. And there were many micro-innovations along the way that made this possible.

As mentioned, we wanted a smartphone that was a phone first and a Tango device second. The problem was that the original Tango developer kit was a 7-inch tablet that prioritized Tango functionality and was optimized for holding in landscape mode. To transfer this technology to a phone, we had to deal with a few interesting design decisions:

  • First, Tango requires three key imaging components – a RGB camera, a depth-sensing module and a fisheye camera – all of which had to be stacked properly without compromising on the design and user experience.
  • We first considered positioning the cameras in the centre of the phone, but found this placement made the phone too thick. We then shifted the cameras to the left edge, but found the user’s fingers would obstruct the lens with such a configuration in landscape mode. Finally, we decided on the top middle of the phone as the optimal position for these cameras.
  • During this process, we discovered that the heat load generated by these cameras in early prototypes caused the processors to slow down. We therefore needed to draw the heat away from the three cameras. To tackle this, we installed a special copper alloy heat pipe customized to efficiently draw the heat out. The pipe funnels heat from the top of the device – where the cameras are located – to the bottom to facilitate heat dissipation.
  • Finally, we needed to handle the complexities of the 170-degree fisheye camera, whose role was to gather information on the shape of the objects in front of them and then extract the information through image processing algorithms. The team had to work around the clock with our partners to get the lens to sync up correctly with the other cameras, ultimately achieving the ability to properly identify surroundings, depth and objects through these complex algorithms to offer users the ultimate Tango enabled experience.  

In the end, we deliberated for hours on every design decision, with upwards of 10 different prototypes made and tested, and every small detail taken into consideration. It was a design and product development journey that we took great pride in and are grateful for the support of our key partners – Google, Qualcomm, Infineon and pmd -- in incorporating a wide number of technologies.

Before Tech World, we dove into why we’re placing our bets on Tango. Tango’s ability to track motion, learn spatial recognition and depth perception transforms the consumer technology experience and unlocks experiences that haven’t yet imagined. Soon, indoor navigation will reach a new potential for immersion enabled by revolutionary technology like Tango and executed through breakthrough devices such as the Phab 2 Pro.

We’re excited that the Phab 2 Pro is now available. Stay tuned for more by following us on Twitter and Facebook.