Pokemon Go developer Niantic believes that AR's biggest market will be outdoors

Chloe Liao, Tainan; Jack Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Photo: Niantic CEO John Hanke (R) and SVP of Pokemon GO Ed Wu (L). Credit: DIGITIMES

As Pokemon Go approaches the tenth anniversary of its launch, it continues to be the most influential augmented reality (AR) game globally. John Hanke, CEO of Pokemon Go developer Niantic, recently visited Taiwan for a physical event. When discussing the future development of AR technology, he believes that while the current market discussions about the metaverse mostly focus on indoor settings, the success of Pokemon Go suggests that the biggest market opportunity for AR in the future might be outdoors.

Hanke mentioned that Niantic collaborated with Nintendo to develop Pokemon Go to encourage more people to venture outdoors, increase interaction with others through the game, and explore their surrounding environments. Therefore, for Niantic's vision, the metaverse is much more than just lying on the couch

In the past, Niantic also collaborated with Qualcomm to unveil a concept AR glasses that feature the Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 chip. Niantic emphasized that these AR glasses are built specifically for outdoor use. Additionally, Niantic's Lightship VPS (Visual Positioning System) is compatible with Qualcomm's Snapdragon Spaces XR developer platform.

The Lightship VPS allows digital objects and creations to exist in real-world locations. Thus, when someone places a digital object in a specific location, another person can find it at the same location. This means that augmented reality experiences in the digital world can be as realistic as real-world social interactions. The technology is considered a key component in Niantic's efforts to develop AR glasses.

Niantic's expansion from game development to investing in AR software and hardware technology underscores its vision for the future of AR, building on the ideas introduced in Pokemon Go. Hanke also revealed that, besides smartphones, AR glasses will be a significant device for multiple Niantic games in the future.

What Vision Pro brings to the AR sector

The launch of Apple's Vision Pro in 2023 was a significant boost to the entire metaverse market and ecosystem. As part of end-user application development, Hanke acknowledged that Vision Pro will certainly play a leading role in stimulating the development and maturation of AR/MR (Mixed Reality) products and related technologies.

Looking at end-device demand, he stated that with the advancements in semiconductor technology by companies like TSMC, products can become lighter and thinner. He anticipates that 2024 will be a groundbreaking year for AR glasses and expects the market to see the introduction of more headset devices.

However, according to Apple's official statements, the Vision Pro is recommended for use in controlled indoor environments, and many developers believe it could replace personal computers. Despite that, Hanke offered a different perspective, stating that while current discussions about the metaverse often see headsets as indoor use only, he believed that this is merely a transitional phase and that the larger market opportunity lies in outdoor use.

He pointed out that smartphones, the most widely used smart devices, are portable and can be taken outdoors. From a scale and impact perspective, products or user experiences designed for prolonged use outdoors represent the primary market opportunity. However, he also emphasizes that this doesn't mean indoor devices or applications don't have value.

Niantic was previously Google's AR business unit. In 2015, it was spun off from Google after an organizational reorganization and became an independent company. In Niantic's Series A financing, Google, Nintendo, and The Pokemon Company invested around US$30 million. Pokemon Go was launched in 2016 and became one of the most successful mobile games ever.

Last week, the "Pokemon GO City Safari" physical event was held in Tainan. Besides Niantic CEO John Hanke, SVP of Pokemon GO Ed Wu was also present at the event. This was Hanke's first visit to Taiwan. The two-day event is expected to attract over 100,000 visitors.