Fresh off today’s announcement of the Snapdragon XR2 mobile platform, Qualcomm has revealed an impressively ambitious early partner for its latest mixed reality effort: AR software giant Niantic. The developer of multi-billion-dollar hit Pokémon Go and the popular Warner Bros. collaboration Harry Potter: Wizards Unite said today that it will collaborate with the chipmaker on AR glasses, software, and cloud components.
While details on the partnership are still few and far between, the deal will combine Qualcomm’s XR2 hardware and software with Niantic’s Real World Platform to enable world-scale AR games shared by millions of concurrent users. Though imagery for the platform isn’t yet available, it’s not hard to imagine people wearing Niantic glasses as they wander through shared public places chasing Pokémon, rather than doing so with their smartphone screens.
Niantic has expressed interest in AR glasses before, but a move into the still-challenging consumer AR hardware market is bold for the software company. Five years ago, any developer would have struggled to make its own AR glasses, and even today, no consumer AR headset has achieved mainstream popularity. On the other hand, Niantic is the only large company to build a sustainable business wholly around augmented reality games and has all but single-handedly kept consumers interested in AR technology, which remains nascent at best, gimmicky at worst.
Meanwhile, Qualcomm’s XR team has been laying the groundwork for deals just like this. In September, the chipmaker said that developers can use its chips, reference hardware designs, software, and established supplier relationships to become mixed reality platform vendors in as little as four months if they hit the ground running. Niantic offered no timetable for its own offering, but described the deal as a multi-year joint collaboration, suggesting that its glasses won’t be coming quite that quickly.
Thanks to its considerable experience with AR development, Niantic has been thinking bigger over the past year, setting up its own Creator Program and Beyond Reality Fund to lure AR and location-based projects to its Niantic Real World Platform — an augmented reality development kit designed to help third-party developers hasten development of location-based games. Access to the Qualcomm-Niantic hardware will be included in the Creator Program “when available,” Niantic said, and interested developers can sign up at niantic.dev.
Niantic cofounder and CTO Phil Keslin said that the company hopes to help “move the entire AR industry forward as we work together with Qualcomm Technologies to define a true end-to-end architecture — inclusive of hardware, software, and cloud technologies.” Given the currently iffy state of consumer AR glasses development, Niantic is better positioned than most companies to actually get people to spend money on AR, so it will be interesting to see what it comes up with, and when people will actually be able to buy in.