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Smartphones are only the tip of the AR iceberg, argues Niantic CEO

John Hanke explains how focusing too heavily on smartphones and camera-driven AR overlays risks missing the point of augmented reality and limits its future applications.
"The point is that the AR camera view is a cool step forward, but it’s only part of what is going to make AR so important and powerful."

- Niantic CEO John Hanke shares his vision for the future of augmented reality

During its big iPhone reveal yesterday, Apple described its upcoming line of devices as the first smartphones designed with augmented reality applications in mind, but Niantic CEO John Hanke says that the tech’s current focus on digital overlays risks missing the point of AR entirely.

In a post shared to Medium, Hanke detailed Niantic’s vision of the coming augmented future and argued that the tech showed off during Apple’s presentation should be viewed as a stepping-stone rather than AR’s endgame. 

“When used correctly, [AR] can be a powerful way to enhance your experience with the physical world. But apps that merely place a digital object on your kitchen table don’t really qualify as ‘AR’ in our view,” explains Hanke.

"Even when used out in the world in the ‘right way,’ AR suffers from a challenging form factor when accessed via a phone. Holding a phone in front of you to align an AR view is, honestly, a little awkward," he says. "Based on experiences with apps that are mostly focused on this visual aspect of AR, some will conclude that AR is a gimmick that lacks real utility. That’s a bummer, because it really is the first step to something that is going to transform the world as we know it."

That being said, Hanke doesn’t believe that the kind of AR shown off by Apple yesterday is without its utility. He stresses that the kind of technology used to create digital overlays for a phone’s camera in the same vein as what will eventually power more complete augmented reality devices like AR glasses.

"AR on phones is a very important step on the path to full AR," says Hanke. "But it’s a step that should be understood as one with limitations in its current form factor and level of development."

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