Niantic, makers of the hugely popular mobile game Pokémon Go, is developing a new AR title that will incorporate audio cues into the gaming experience, according to company CTO Phil Keslin. The executive had just exited the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, where he had spoken on a panel about the upcoming wave of AR applications, and the potential for the AR market in the wake of new developer tools from Apple and Google.
On the panel, Keslin had talked about one of the problems with AR - that it's somewhat awkward to hold your phone up, the way you with AR games like Pokémon Go.
"I can tell you from experience that people don't do this," he said, mimicking how people playing an AR game would hold their phones. "It's very unnatural. It makes them look like a total doofus if they're doing it for an extended period of time," he added.
Pokemon Go CTO says people do not like pointing their phones for AR.
— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) September 19, 2017
"In Pokémon Go, the only time they really use it is to share their encounter with the Pokémon. To take that one picture, which is natural....Everybody takes a picture, and then they're done. It's not walking around the world with the phone in front of their face," Keslin said.
However, he did seem intrigued by the way that audio could be integrated into AR experience, saying that, "audio is different. You can hide that."
Most people today walk around with their audio earbuds stuck in their ears all the time, he noted. "Nobody knows that they're being augmented then."
phil-keslin-147A2876Phil Keslin (Niantic Inc.) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017
Cyan Banister (Founders Fund), Ross Finman and Diana Hu (Escher Reality), Phil Keslin (Niantic Inc.) and Nathan Kong (The CurioPets Company)147A2871AR panel with Phil Keslin (Niantic Inc.), Nathan Kong (The CurioPets Company), Ross Finman and Diana Hu (Escher Reality), and Cyan Banister (Founders Fund) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017
phil-keslin-147A2887Phil Keslin (Niantic Inc.) at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017
We followed up with him after the panel, where he explained that audio was something that Niantic had toyed with back when they were building Ingress, the location-based, augmented reality game that was something of a precursor to Pokémon Go.
Though not all the features made it to the final product, the team had thought about using audio in a variety of ways in Ingress, from telling you which location to visit, or even have your phone call you when you reached a waypoint to give you another clue. Another possibility was combining audio with the phone's sensors, like an accelerometer, to know what a person was doing.
Perhaps the game would tell you to go left, look around, but "don't look up!", for instance.
This bigger idea that audio could enhance an AR experience will come into play in the future Niantic title.
Asked first if audio clues would ever come to Pokémon Go, Keslin told us: "Maybe. Or maybe we'd use it in other games," he said with a smile. "We're not a one-game wonder."
Keslin wouldn't talk about the new game in detail, for obvious reasons, but did confirm it's under active development. (Can we play it next year? "Maybe," he said. His favorite answer!)
However, Keslin would speak to the company's thoughts on audio in general.
"I think audio is significant. It’s one of our senses. It’s one of things that really drives us. I want to look at ways to incorporate audio in future titles," Keslin told us. "AR is not just visual."