‘Pokémon Go’ developer Niantic reveals AR smart glasses

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Niantic is partnering with Qualcomm on a pair of AR smart glasses.
Image: Cody DeBos / The Burn-In

It’s arguable that the augmented reality (AR) feature allowing users to catch Pokémon in their backyard is what helped make Niantic’s “Pokémon Go” the massive success that it is. As one of the first revolutionary uses of AR, the small developer set a precedent for the future. Now, it is looking to expand on the technology that catapulted it into the top tier of mobile game studios.

On Thursday, Niantic announced that it is partnering with Qualcomm to create a pair of AR smart glasses. This marks the latest company to join a long list of names working to create similar wearables. Still, Niantic holds one significant advantage over its competition.

Unconventional Development Strategy

Though there are plenty of other firms working on smart glasses, Niantic is looking to blaze its own trail. The partnership with Qualcomm is especially noteworthy. Niantic’s future AR smart glasses will boast the semiconductor manufacturer’s new mixed reality Snapdragon XR2 chip.

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That piece of hardware has already drawn significant excitement. It is powerful enough to facilitate 8K, 360-degree video at 60 frames per second. Meanwhile, the built-in GPU has more than 1.5 times the power of Oculus’s full-VR Quest headset.

As of now, neither Niantic or Qualcomm have announced details about how the smart glasses will work. However, it appears that the duo might not be planning to sell the wearable directly to consumers. Rather, they may license the hardware to other companies who can then mass produce it.

Qualcomm’s Hugo Swart, head of mixed reality, said, “We build a reference design to enable other hardware manufacturers to commercialize.”

Doing What Others Can’t

The smart glasses world is growing more competitive by the day. Niantic is joining tech giants like Facebook and Google in its pursuit of AR-enabled eyewear. Apple is also working on its own iteration of smart glasses.

However, Niantic does have an advantage—“Pokémon Go.” Should the developer create AR glasses that overlay the Pokémon world atop the real one without the need for a smartphone camera, its cornerstone game could make the glasses a huge hit. Moreover, such an implication could help ease society’s transition into smart eyewear just like it did for AR.

Notably, the developer hasn’t yet revealed if the glasses will be compatible with its massively popular game. Of course, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Niantic to develop AR glasses and then not pair them with “Go.”

Smart glasses do have plenty of other uses though. In commercial applications, they allow the wearer to operate with both hands free while accessing digital information. Meanwhile, the Snapchat-branded Spectacles 3 allow users to take selfies and record video for their social media with a pair of trendy sunglasses—for $399.

Should Niantic’s project go as planned, it could have massive implications not only for the smart eyewear industry but also for the mobile gaming world.