Building on the success of its augmented reality apps for smartphones, Niantic surprised attendees at Qualcomm’s December 2019 Snapdragon Tech Summit by announcing plans to offer its own consumer AR platform — hardware, software, and support for a third-party developer community. Today, the company is announcing the Niantic Planet-Scale AR Alliance, a collection of cellular partners that will help distribute “exclusive 5G ready AR content” and demonstrate 5G consumer AR experiences to the public.
Niantic’s initial partners are Deutsche Telekom, EE, Globe, Orange, SK Telecom, SoftBank, Telus, and Verizon, representing countries ranging from the United States and United Kingdom to South Korea, Japan, Australia, the Philippines, and parts of Europe. Collectively, the group’s marketing efforts and large number of retail locations could play a critical role in popularizing consumer AR across the world.
Working with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 platform, Niantic is one of several companies pushing to expand augmented reality from $3,500 industrial headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens to affordable consumer products. Buoyed by the popularity of its iPhone and Android hit Pokémon Go, the software company has generated billions of dollars in revenue and announced initiatives to help other developers expand AR’s possibilities. Niantic believes its track record of taking Pokémon, Harry Potter, and other IPs into augmented reality will help it win customers who might otherwise look at consumer AR headsets from Nreal, Facebook, and Apple.
Today, Niantic said it’s “working to make AR experiences mirror the real world” and be persistent in the real world so its augmented experiences can be shared by “tens of millions of Niantic explorers.” As of now, the company says it has over 7 million “interesting and mapped locations” — likely gathered through use of the Pokémon app — as well as over 1 billion downloads of its existing apps. The company says its carrier partnerships will enable it to test the “reality blending” and synchronous multiplayer features with 5G capabilities like ultra-reliable low latency communications and edge computing, which are still in early deployment stages across the world.
Niantic’s deal with Qualcomm was one of the bigger and more closely held surprises at the Snapdragon Tech Summit, spotlighting the potentially game-changing appeal of the Snapdragon XR2 chipset. Qualcomm’s reference platform will enable OEMs to offer complete 5G-ready mixed reality headsets, including considerably more horsepower than is found in headsets such as today’s Oculus Quest. While a follow-up to the Quest VR headset is expected to hit stores this year, Facebook has suggested that its own AR headset is years off, leaving the door open for smaller but still ambitious companies to develop the nascent AR space.