Tech

‘Pokémon Go’ developer Niantic is making AR glasses

Niantic has been huge in bringing augmented reality to gaming. Now it looks like the company is ready to jump into the hardware market, too.

PORTLAND, ME - MAY 28: Evergreen Cemetery in Portland has been a spot where Pokemon Go players have gone to play. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Portland Press Herald/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

Niantic, the company best known for creating Pokémon Go, might be ready to move into the hardware game. CEO John Hanke tweeted a cryptic image yesterday teasing what appears to be a pair of Niantic-brand glasses, likely with augmented reality (AR) capabilities.

This pseudo-announcement — cryptic as it is, with its deft crop and abstract caption — is certainly a surprise from Niantic. The company has largely focused its efforts on software development in the past, with games like Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite being the most major contributors to its business.

The jump to release a consumer-focused hardware product wouldn’t actually be that large for Niantic, though. The company’s rapid growth in recent years has allowed it to invest heavily in platforms and studios focused on bringing AR further into the mainstream.

Not so fast — Hanke’s tweeted photo is of high quality, picturing what appears to be a finished product. It’s the type of photo you might click through while browsing a web store, deciding whether or not to add that expensive item to your cart.

Despite this appearance, it’s probably going to be a while before we actually have the chance to purchase Niantic’s high-tech glasses. Wired writer Lauren Goode retweeted Hanke’s image with the caption, “Last time we spoke Hanke said it will still be a couple of years before we see a truly consumer-friendly AR glasses experience…”

This most likely means Niantic won’t be ready to release its glasses in the near future. Hanke did say he’s excited to see “progress,” not necessarily a finished product.

Everyone’s into AR now — Augmented reality has seen a huge boom in popularity in the last five years. AR capabilities are so commonplace at this point that we often take them for granted on our phones.

The next step for AR is a massive one: dedicated hardware and peripherals. Just about every major tech company is developing a pair of AR-capable glasses (or, at the very least, considering the possibility). Snap says AR glasses will play a big role in the company’s future; Facebook is developing a pair with Ray-Ban that could interact with haptic gloves; Apple has been working on a pair of AR glasses for years; and Samsung is using its AR program to make festival sunglasses cool again.

Niantic’s on the front lines — Though Niantic has not definitively announced working on consumer hardware, it’s really the logical next step in the company’s expansion. The company has long pushed the boundaries of augmented reality, even developing a full suite of tools called the Niantic Real World Platform. It’s also acquired several AR-focused studios in recent years.

Just last week, Niantic announced a huge partnership with Nintendo to create AR games, the first of which will be based on the Pikmin franchise. No wonder the AR glasses are still a few years away — Niantic is booked and busy.