Niantic positions itself as a capable rival to Apple, Meta in the upcoming A

Niantic, the augmented reality gaming platform best known for the hit pokemon gohas announced a number of improvements to its Lightship development platform that could help it compete with larger, money-rich tech companies that will soon be going full throttle on 3D spatial computing.

At its developers conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Niantic launched its “Lightship Virtual Positioning System,” a virtual map of the Earth that allows game developers to embed 3D graphics in real-world places. For example, a developer can hide a (digital) prize at a well-known statue as part of a scavenger hunt.

With its foundational “map of the world” and a central destination for discovering AR content, Niantic continues to evolve into an alternative platform for developers to create experiences beyond the AR/VR ecosystems of Apple, Meta and Google. This can offer some advantages. After all, Niantic has the most genuine experience in developing and using AR apps, including one that was a huge hit (pokemon go) and introduced a lot of people to the concept of augmented reality in the first place.

The company has been working on its virtual card for several years now. Niantic says the map already includes more than 30,000 public locations, with a larger number of locations concentrated in San Francisco, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle. Developers can also add their own locations to the map to support their AR apps and experiences.

The concept of real-world AR has become the centerpiece of Niantic’s take on the metaverse, but it’s far from the only platform in town. Google, under whose wing Niantic originally developed its technology, has recently released his own AR card of the world, who built it using the terabytes of photos it collected for its Google Street View feature.

Niantic and its AR competitors are making such cards in preparation for a major shift from personal technology to spatial computing.

“About once every decade for the past 70 years, a new computing platform arrives and changes the way we work, play, communicate with each other and live our lives,” said Niantic founder John Nanke of AR during his root note Tuesday in San Francisco. “We are now at the beginning of another one of those shifts, and it could very well be the most profound yet. This transition will really blend the real and digital worlds.”

However, that shift is at least partly dependent on the development of a new generation of portable hardware. Right now, real-world anchored AR content needs to be viewed through the screen of a smartphone camera. In the future, developers hope to deliver those virtual experiences through AR glasses, which Snap has already built (for developers only) and that Apple googleand meta are all reportedly under construction.

The companies that make the AR glasses will almost certainly launch their own AR app stores in which they will offer their AR experiences and those of third-party developers (who may have to pay a fee to be there).

Niantic, for its part, on Tuesday announced a new metaverse destination called “Campfire,” where users can explore the AR games and apps that Lightship developers are creating. But Campfire is a bit more ambitious than an app store. There’s also a social element that allows users to find game mates and perhaps go on real-world AR adventures together.

“We see it as the home page of the true metaverse,” Hanke said, “a place where players can discover other players in their environment, message each other and share content, host their own events and gatherings, and explore the types of social contacts in the real world that have always been at the heart of what Niantic does.”