When Google turned into Alphabet in 2015, it was decided to drift off one of its in-house startups, Niantic Labs (later renamed Niantic, Inc.), which had been developing augmented reality experiences. Now, seven years later, Google seems to be in direct competition with Niantic.
At its I/O conference Wednesday, Google announced that it is offering AR developers a virtual world map onto which developers can embed AR graphics. This allows them to create AR experiences linked to real-world places.
Google launched its ARCore framework in 2017, but the new geospatial API it will provide to developers grew out of the Google Maps division.
Google launched a groundbreaking AR feature called Live View for Maps in 2019, which allows users to find their way around while walking by using AR to display helpful arrows and directions on top of the real world as seen through their smartphone’s camera. . To make sure those arrows and directions show up in the right places in the real world, Google developed a geospatial map of the world using street view photography and user-provided images. The geospatial map makes the same label appear over a particular street or landmark when the user points their phone there.
Now Google offers ARCore developers the use of that map through an API. “It brings the magic of Live View to developers for free,” Google Maps VP Miriam Daniel said of the ARCore Geospatial API at a press conference.
Niantic Labs has developed real-world connected AR experiences such as its Incoming game and the Field Trip App while it was still part of the Alphabet family. Niantic continued to develop the same themes after leaving Mountain View for his own excavations in San Francisco. It would continue to create pokemon go, probably the most famous outdoor AR game. Niantic wants developers to be Lightship Development Platformas well as its own geospatial map of the world, to develop their own games and other experiences.
Likewise, Google’s new ARCore Geospatial API is aimed at game developers. Among the examples shown to developers at I/O was a game created by Japanese wireless company DOCOMO and creative studio Curiosity, in which the player “fights off virtual dragons with robot mates in front of iconic Tokyo landmarks, such as Tokyo Tower.” , as Google describes it.
The non-gaming use cases are a bit more compelling. Shared electric vehicle company Lime is already testing the API in six cities to help riders’ phones find safe places to park their e-bikes and e-scooters. The Aussie telecom Telstra is using the API to help sports fans and concertgoers find their seats, concession stands and restrooms at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium.
While AR experiences are limited to phones, the stakes in the competition between the various AR development platforms may not be high. But AR glasses are coming (including, probably, some from google), and if or when consumers use them, they expect useful and fun AR experiences. AR developers are shifting into a higher gear. Some of the apps they create require images that are permanently and accurately anchored to real world places. Therefore, today could be a momentous day for Google and Niantic.
May the best card win.