Niantic, makers of Pokemon Go, launched a new platform for AR developers called Lightship today. The company is taking the set of iOS and Android AR tools out of beta and offering worldwide access, with a model that’s initially free to use for all developers through to summer 2022.
John Hanke, Niantic’s CEO and formerly the leader of the Google division responsible for Google Maps and Earth, told me that his hope is that Lightship will attract developers who share the company’s values for the use of AR, particularly as we approach mass market AR glasses. Alongside the launch and numerous partnership announcements, Niantic is also creating a new venture arm with an inaugural $20 million fund aimed at investing in early stage businesses that are developing on the Lightship platform.
Hanke is ardent in his belief that AR tech will lead to a “real world metaverse,” a particular spin on the metaverse idea that is more about layering digital information over a user's surroundings than it is about entirely immersing a person in virtual environments. The idea is in keeping with Niantic’s track record of making mobile AR games focused on getting users to go outside and explore their surroundings. We also discussed the recent shutdown of Niantic’s Harry Potter game and Hanke’s interest in how blockchain tech might develop over the coming years. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.