AR

Harry Potter, the Platform, and the Future of Niantic

Posted by | Apps, AR, augmented reality, DigiLens, EC-1, Escher Reality, Gaming, geolocation, harry potter, harry potter wizards unite, john hanke, matrix mill, Mobile, niantic, Phil Keslin, Pokémon Go, Startups, TC, Virtual reality, VR | No Comments

What is Niantic? If they recognize the name, most people would rightly tell you it’s a company that makes mobile games, like Pokémon GO, or Ingress, or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

But no one at Niantic really seems to box it up as a mobile gaming company. Making these games is a big part of what the company does, yes, but the games are part of a bigger picture: they are a springboard, a place to figure out the constraints of what they can do with augmented reality today, and to figure out how to build the tech that moves it forward. Niantic wants to wrap their learnings back into a platform upon which others can build their own AR products, be it games or something else. And they want to be ready for whatever comes after smartphones.

Niantic is a bet on augmented reality becoming more and more a part of our lives; when that happens, they want to be the company that powers it.

This is Part 3 of our EC-1 series on Niantic, looking at its past, present, and potential future. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The reading time for this article is 24 minutes (6,050 words)

The platform play

After the absurd launch of Pokémon GO, everyone wanted a piece of the AR pie. Niantic got more pitches than they could take on, I’m told, as rights holders big and small reached out to see if the company might build something with their IP or franchise.

But Niantic couldn’t build it all. From art, to audio, to even just thinking up new gameplay mechanics, each game or project they took on would require a mountain of resources. What if they focused on letting these other companies build these sorts of things themselves?

That’s the idea behind Niantic’s Real World Platform. This platform is a key part of Niantic’s game plan moving forward, with the company having as many people working on the platform as it has on its marquee money maker, Pokémon GO.

There are tons of pieces that go into making things like GO or Ingress, and Niantic has spent the better part of the last decade figuring out how to make them all fit together. They’ve built the core engine that powers the games and, after a bumpy start with Pokémon GO’s launch, figured out how to scale it to hundreds of millions of users around the world. They’ve put considerable work into figuring out how to detect cheaters and spoofers and give them the boot. They’ve built a social layer, with systems like friendships and trade. They’ve already amassed that real-world location data that proved so challenging back when it was building Field Trip, with all of those real-world points of interest that now serve as portals and Pokéstops.

Niantic could help other companies with real-world events, too. That might seem funny after the mess that was the first Pokémon GO Fest (as detailed in Part II). But Niantic turned around, went back to the same city the next year, and pulled it off. That experience — that battle-testing — is valuable. Meanwhile, the company has pulled off countless huge Ingress events, and a number of Pokémon GO side events calledSafari Zones.” CTO Phil Keslin confirmed to me that event management is planned as part of the platform offering.

As Niantic builds new tech — like, say, more advanced AR or faster ways to sync AR experiences between devices — it’ll all get rolled into the platform. With each problem they solve, the platform offering would grow.

But first they need to prove that there’s a platform to stand on.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Niantic’s platform, as it exists today, is the result of years of building their own games. It’s the collection of tools they’ve built and rebuilt along the way, and that already powers Ingress Prime and Pokémon GO. But to prove itself as a platform company, Niantic needs to show that they can do it again. That they can take these engines, these tools, and, working with another team, use them for something new.

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Apple could launch augmented reality headset in 2020

Posted by | Apple, AR, augmented reality, augmented reality headset, Gadgets, ming-chi kuo, rumor, TC | No Comments

According to a new report from Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5mac), a reliable analyst on all things Apple, the company has been working on an augmented reality headset and is about to launch the device. This pair of glasses could go into mass production as early as Q4 2019 and should be available at some point during the first half of 2020.

It’s still unclear what you’ll be able to do with this mysterious headset. Kuo says that it’ll work more or less like an Apple Watch. You won’t be able to use the AR headset without an iPhone as it’ll rely heavily on your iPhone.

The glasses will act as a deported display to give you information right in front of your eyes. Your iPhone will do the heavy lifting when it comes to internet connectivity, location services and computing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the AR headset relies on Bluetooth to communicate with your iPhone.

Kuo’s report doesn’t say what you’ll find in the headset. Apple could embed displays and sensors so that the AR headset is aware of your surroundings. An AR device only makes sense if Apple puts sensors to detect things around you.

Apple has already experimented with augmented reality with its ARKit framework on iOS. Developers have been able to build apps that integrate digital elements in the real world, as viewed through your phone cameras.

While many apps have added AR features, most of them feel gimmicky and don’t add any real value. There hasn’t been a ton of AR-native apps either.

One interested use case for augmented reality is mapping. Google recently unveiled an augmented reality mode for Google Maps. You can hold your phone in front of your face to see arrows indicating where you’re supposed to go.

Apple has also been rebuilding Apple Maps with its own data. The company isn’t just drawing maps. It is collecting a ton of real-world data using LiDAR sensors and eight cameras attached to a car roof. Let’s see if Apple Maps will play an important part in Apple’s rumored AR headset.

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Walmart adds an AR scanner to its iOS app for product comparisons

Posted by | Apps, AR, augmented reality, Mobile, retail, shopping, Walmart | No Comments

Walmart is giving augmented reality a shot. The retailer today announced the launch of a new AR scanning tool in its iPhone application which will help customers with product comparisons. However, unlike a typical barcode scanner meant only to compare prices on one item at a time, Walmart’s AR scanner can be panned about across store shelves, offering details on pricing and customer ratings beneath the products it sees.

The technology was first developed by a team at an internal Walmart hackathon using Apple’s ARKit technology. At the time, their idea was to create a scanning experience that worked faster and felt faster when used by customers. They also wanted to build a scanner that offered more than just price comparisons.

“Walmart store shoppers love using our mobile app barcode scanner as a price checker. Our team sees the potential of this product as so much more, though,” explains Tim Sears, senior engineering manager at Walmart Labs, in a post announcing the feature’s launch. “When a customer launches the scanner, they get a direct connection between the digital and the physical world that their screen and camera lens creates for them,” he says.

The team won the hackathon, then went on to further redesign the experience to become the one that’s live today in Walmart’s application.

To use the scanner, you launch the feature in the Walmart app, then point it at the products on the shelf you want to compare. As you move the phone between one item and the other, the product tile at the bottom of the screen will update with information, including the product name, price and star rating across however many reviews it has received on Walmart.com. A link to related products is also available.

The AR scanner was designed to anchor dots to what you’ve scanned, but uses smaller dots instead of anchoring the entire content to the product itself to overcome the problems that could occur when multiple items are scanned together in a close space.

Despite the supposed advantages of AR scanning over a simpler barcode scan, it still remains to be seen to what extent consumers will adopt the feature now that it’s live.

Walmart isn’t the only retailer to give AR a go. Others have used it in various ways, including Amazon, Target, Wayfair and many more. But in several cases, AR’s adoption by retailers have been focused on visualizing products in your home, or — in the case of Target’s AR “studio” — makeup on your face.

Walmart’s AR scanner goes after a more practical use.

The AR Scanner is in the latest version of the Walmart iOS app (18.20 and higher), and works on iPhones that run at least iOS 11.3. This latter requirement is due to its use of ARKit 1.5, but will limit the audience largely to those with newer iPhones.

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Kayak’s new AR feature will tell you if your carry-on bag fits the overhead bin

Posted by | Apps, AR, augmented reality, iOS apps, kayak, Mobile, travel | No Comments

Popular travel app Kayak has put augmented reality to clever use with a new feature that lets you measure the size of your carry-on bag using just your smartphone. Its updated iOS app now takes advantage of Apple’s ARKit technology to introduce a new Bag Measurement tool that will help you calculate your bag’s size so you can find out if it fits in the overhead bin – you know, before your trip.

The tool is handy because the dimensions of permitted carry-on luggage can differ from airline to airline, Kayak explains, so it’s not as simple these days to figure out if your bag will fit.

In the new Kayak iOS app, you can access the measurement tool through the Flight Search feature.

The app will first prompt you to scan the floor in order to calibrate the measurements. You then move your phone around the bag to capture its size. Kayak’s app will do the math and return the bag’s size, in terms of length, width, and height.

And it will tell you if the bag “looks good” or not to meet the carry-on size requirements.

Plus, the company says it compares all the airlines’ baggage size requirements in one place, so you’ll know for sure if it will be allowed by the airline you’re flying.

Augmented reality applications, so far, have been a mixed bag. (Sorry).

Some applications can be fairly useful  – like visualizing furniture placed in a room or trying on new makeup colors. (Yes, really. I’m serious). But others are more questionable – like some AR gaming apps, perhaps. (For example, how long would you play that AR slingshot game?)

But one area where AR has held up better is in helping you measure stuff with your phone – so much so that even Apple threw in its own AR measuring tape with iOS 12.

Kayak’s tool, also timed with the release of iOS 12, is among those more practical applications.

The company says the AR feature is currently only live on updated iOS devices.

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Magic Leap One AR headset for devs costs more than 2x the iPhone X

Posted by | alibaba group, Andreessen Horowitz, AR, augmented reality, Gadgets, Google, Magic Leap, Magic Leap One, mixed reality, United States, Virtual reality, wearable devices, Wearables | No Comments

It’s been a long and trip-filled wait but mixed reality headgear maker Magic Leap will finally, finally be shipping its first piece of hardware this summer.

We were still waiting on the price-tag — but it’s just been officially revealed: The developer-focused Magic Leap One ‘creator edition’ headset will set you back at least $2,295.

So a considerable chunk of change — albeit this bit of kit is not intended as a mass market consumer device (although Magic Leap’s founder frothed about it being “at the border of practical for everybody” in an interview with the Verge) but rather an AR headset for developers to create content that could excite future consumers.

Here we go. Magic Leap One Creator Edition is now available to purchase. So if you’re a #developer, creator or explorer, join us as we venture deeper into the world of #spatialcomputing. Take the leap at https://t.co/8HbsM1yNQo #FreeYourMind pic.twitter.com/mpEqNFltlo

— Magic Leap (@magicleap) August 8, 2018

A ‘Pro’ version of the kit — with an extra hub cable and some kind of rapid replacement service if the kit breaks — costs an additional $495, according to CNET. While certain (possibly necessary) extras such as prescription lenses also cost more. So it’s pushing towards 3x iPhone Xes at that point.

The augmented reality startup, which has raised at least $2.3 billion, according to Crunchbase, attracting a string of high profile investors including Google, Alibaba, Andreessen Horowitz and others, is only offering its first piece of reality bending eyewear to “creators in cities across the contiguous U.S.”.

Potential buyers are asked to input their zip code via its website to check if it will agree to take their money but it adds that “the list is growing daily”.

We tried the TC SF office zip and — unsurprisingly — got an affirmative of delivery there. But any folks in, for example, Hawaii wanting to spend big to space out are out of luck for now…

CNET reports that the headset is only available in six U.S. cities at this stage: Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco (Bay Area), and Seattle — with Magic Leap saying that “many” more will be added in fall.

The company specifies it will “hand deliver” the package to buyers — and “personally get you set up”. So evidently it wants to try to make sure its first flush of expensive hardware doesn’t get sucked down the toilet of dashed developer expectations.

It describes the computing paradigm it’s seeking to shift, i.e. with the help of enthused developers and content creators, as “spatial computing” — but it really needs a whole crowd of technically and creatively minded people to step with it if it’s going to successfully deliver that.

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Maps walking navigation is Google’s most compelling use for AR yet

Posted by | AR, augmented reality, Google, google i/o, Google I/O 2018, Google-Maps, Mobile | No Comments

Google managed to elicit an audible gasp from the crowd at I/O today when it showed off a new augmented feature for Maps. It was a clear standout during a keynote that contained plenty of iterative updates to existing software, and proved a key glimpse into what it will take to move AR from interesting novelty to compelling use case.

Along with the standard array of ARCore-based gaming offerings, the new AR mode for Maps is arguably one of the first truly indispensable real-world applications. As someone who spent the better part of an hour yesterday attempting to navigate the long, unfamiliar blocks of Palo Alto, California by following an arrow on a small blue circle, I can personally vouch for the usefulness of such an application.

It’s still early days — the company admitted that it’s playing around with a few ideas here. But it’s easy to see how offering visual overlays of a real-time image would make it a heck of a lot easier to navigate unfamiliar spaces.

In a sense, it’s a like a real-time version of Street View, combining real-world images with map overlays and location-based positioning. In the demo, a majority of the screen is devoted to the street image captured by the on-board camera. Turn by turn directions and large arrows are overlaid onto the video, while a small half-circle displays a sliver of the map to give you some context of where you are and how long it will take to get where you’re going.

Of course, such a system that’s heavily reliant on visuals wouldn’t make sense in the context of driving, unless, of course, it’s presented in a kind of heads up display. Here, however, it works seamlessly, assuming, of course, you’re willing to look a bit dorky by holding up your phone in front of your face.

There are a lot of moving parts here too, naturally. In order to sync up to a display like this, the map is going to have to get things just right — and anyone who’s ever walked through the city streets on Maps knows how often that can misfire. That’s likely a big part of the reason Google wasn’t really willing to share specifics with regards to timing. For now, we just have to assume this is a sort of proof of concept — along with the fun little fox walking guy the company trotted out that had shades of a certain Johnny Cash-voiced coyote.

But if this is what trying to find my way in a new city looks like, sign me up.

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Wayfair’s Android app now lets you shop for furniture using augmented reality

Posted by | Apps, AR, augmented reality, e-commerce, eCommerce, furniture, Mobile, online shopping, retail, shopping, Wayfair | No Comments

AR-enabled shopping is expanding again today. This time, online furniture retailer Wayfair is introducing an augmented reality feature in its mobile app for Android that will allow customers to visualize furniture in their own home ahead of purchase, just by holding up their smartphone.

The feature, called “View in Room 3D,” was previously available on iOS, leveraging Apple’s AR platform ARKit.

Now, Wayfair is taking advantage of Google’s ARCore to offer the same option to Android users.

ARCore, Google’s answer to Apple’s AR platform, was publicly released last month, giving developers a way to integrate AR technology into their Android applications, where they can reach a potential audience of over 100 million Android devices.

Wayfair is not the only shopping site to quickly roll out ARCore support now that it’s available – eBay yesterday launched a feature for sellers that helps them find the right shipping box using AR technology, and promised other AR-enabled features this year. IKEA also just released an Android version of its AR app IKEA Place this week.

Other retailers have been experimenting with AR, as well, including Amazon and Target.

Retailers’ interest in AR is not just because it’s new and trendy – it can help them address the real issue that online shoppers face, when trying to buy furniture from a website, instead of in person.

It’s often difficult for non-designers to really get a sense of what a piece of furniture will look like when placed in the room. Will the new sofa go well with the existing curtains, carpet, and other furniture? Will it fit in the space?

Wayfair’s app helps with those questions, as it projects the furniture or décor in 3D at full-scale, and anchors them to the floor. This lets shoppers see if the object in question fits in the room – without needing to break out their measuring tape. It also helps them get a visual sense of what the room will look like with the new furniture added.

And because the image is in 3D, you can walk around it to see it from different sides – which also helps with consumers’ buying decisions.

“Leveraging augmented reality, the Wayfair app allows shoppers to transform their homes into virtual showrooms, allowing them to see their favorite products up close and at every angle – all in their very own space,” said Steve Conine, co-founder and co-chairman, Wayfair, in statement about the AR feature’s release.

“We knew early on that augmented reality had the potential to completely transform the way people shop for their homes, and as it’s quickly moved toward mainstream adoption, we’re excited to have played an integral role in shaping the experience for millions of shoppers,” he added.

Furniture has been one of the more difficult businesses to transition online, not only because of shipping costs for heavy items, but also because consumers still often want to see the products in real life. They want to touch the fabric, try out a chair’s cushions for comfort, and see the true colors – not just an online photo.

But things are changing, as more commerce shifts online – the channel that’s prefered by millennial shoppers, who are now the largest demographic (37%) of the furniture-buying market.

Wayfair is one of the companies capitalizing on this shift, to the tune of $4.7 billion in net revenue in 2017.

And with the elimination of the furniture showroom, it’s also been quick to jump on new technologies to help its customers better shop, including web-based clipboardsvisual search, mobile messaging, and now, AR – all which give it a competitive advantage versus traditional retailers with more static sites.

The company also recently updated the AR feature in the iOS app that lets customers now record a video of the item in AR, instead of just taking a photo. This feature has a Snapchat-like feel, as you just press and hold the record button to make the recording. You can then walk around the furniture in the video, in order to capture it in 3D then share with friends and family.

This feature will arrive in the Android version soon, we understand.

In the meantime, the Wayfair app for Android is available here.

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The NYT debuts its first augmented reality-enhanced story on iOS

Posted by | Apps, AR, augmented reality, iOS, iOS apps, Mobile, NYT, The New York Times | No Comments

 Apple’s investment in AR technologies has been ushering in a new wave of apps, from those that let you perform more practical tasks – like visualizing furniture placement in rooms – to those with mass consumer appeal – like AR gaming, including Niantic’s upcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. But AR can also be used to create unique experiences within more… Read More

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First Minute Capital joins $5.8M seed for AR treasure hunt game Snatch

Posted by | Apps, AR, AR games, augmented reality, Europe, Gaming, Pokémon Go, snatch, TC | No Comments

 Pokemon Go is a game that spawns cute monsters for players to try to catch. But the massive popularity of the augmented reality title, which saw hoards of humans roaming parks and piers seeking elusive Pokemons last year at the height of the craze, is also spawning plenty of wannabie AR mobile gaming smash hits. Read More

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Microsoft expands HoloLens headsets to 29 new markets, now up to 39

Posted by | AR, augmented reality, Computer Hardware, computing, Europe, Gadgets, head-mounted displays, Headset, Microsoft, Microsoft HoloLens, microsoft windows, mixed reality, TC, VR, Windows 10 | No Comments

 Nearly three years on from Microsoft unveiling its HoloLens augmented reality headsets, the company today announced a major expansion of its availability: 29 more markets in Europe, nearly tripling the total number of countries where you can buy the device up to 39. The news shows that while we don’t have a firm number of how many units have been sold, we do know that Microsoft is… Read More

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