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Pokémon Go gets flak from AR purists for not being “true AR.” And they’re technically right. But in a broader sense, it doesn’t matter: It’s done AR a favor by validating its mass appeal and serving as its gateway drug. And broadly defined, it still augments reality, says Niantic’s Ross Finman.

“From a technical standpoint, the initial tech for Pokémon Go is very simple,” he said at TC Sessions AR/VR. “But what it was supposed to accomplish, if you think about it from that perspective… is for people to feel there were Pokemon in the real world and get them excited.”

Niantic and its Google Maps roots are also early proponents of a 3D mesh of the world, a.k.a. AR cloud, to underlie spatially-relevant experiences. But sticking with Finman’s theme of broader value propositions rather than technical definitions, the real goal should be user experience.

“It’s not just about having a 3D mesh.” he said. “It’s about how can you have a platform and a kind of a data layer on top of the world… and connect it to the experiences. Otherwise, you can be building tech that no one cares about other than other tech people.”

As for design principles, Finman is big on the idea of native AR. It’s all about finding use cases that build on AR’s unique form factor, rather than porting existing experiences. For example, those that play on AR’s positional tracking in creative ways (think: ping pong) will be well positioned.

“It’s about figuring out what is different about AR. Why do you need an experience in AR?” he said. “When ARkit came, out there were tic-tac-toe [apps] for AR…. You don’t need AR to play tic-tac-toe.”

Another design principle is to enlist the physical world as the content, rather than a supporting role In other words, utilize AR’s fusion of digital and physical to treat the latter as game elements. He cites an experimental game he developed that rewards players for “mining” color from the world.

“The gameplay would change based on the color of the room,” he said. “So if you wanted more gold resources, you could put up [gold] post-it notes. People could change how the game dynamics work based off that [and] there’s a new experience in every location.”

Other frameworks for AR experiences that Finman is excited about include arena-scale AR. Like we discussed with Ubiquity6, the value of shared AR experiences can grow exponentially with each player added — a classic network effect. This will materialize in lots of ways.

Speaking of large-scale AR, all of these product philosophies go beyond Pokemon Go. As we’ve examined, a key trend that Niantic is jumpstarting is “AR as a Service.” Using the well-refined Pokémon Go architecture, it will spin off the Real World Platform to empower developers.

And it’s the right company to do this — a smart business decision based on the value it’s built around Pokémon Go’s usage scale. In fact, Finman asserts that the geospatial data and game architecture it now has under its belt can’t be replicated, even by a Google or Apple.

“If you think about what’s different about Niantic versus giants like Apple and Google, we have six years of users collaboratively mapping out different locations,” he said. “Google couldn’t afford to hire the number of people on a daily basis that we have as our user base.”

See the full interview below


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