After the real-world-meets-virtual-creatures mobile game’s initial release in July 2016, millions of people stampeded through parks, visited people’s graves, and flocked to strangers’ homes to hunt for augmented-reality versions of Pokémon characters. The initial frenzy has since faded: Pokémon Go peaked at 28.5 million daily active users a year and a half ago, and it's down to just 5 million daily users currently.
Niantic, the company that created Pokémon Go, is hoping a new feature, available now, will re-energize past and present Pokémon trainers with a more dynamic, high-resolution augmented reality mode called AR+. For the first time, users will be able to walk around Pokémon and move closer to increase their ability to capture them. But only if they are using an iPhone 6S or newer, an iPhone SE, or a 5th-generation iPad or newer.
*Android user shakes fist at Niantic*
When you encounter a Pokémon in the current version of the game, it moves as you move.
With the new AR+ Mode, the Pokémon stays put. The creature is also aware of your physical proximity.
You can move closer to the Pokémon to get a special capture bonus, but your movements may spook it, causing it to flee. “It’s designed to be high risk, high reward,” said Rob Giusti, the lead AR+ Mode engineer at Niantic.
A new “!” icon indicates the Pokémon’s awareness level. The more you move, the higher the awareness level, and the more likely the creature is to flee.
Transparent = Good
Yellow = OK
Orange/Red = About to flee
If you are able to get close to the Pokémon, you’ll receive a new “Expert Handler” bonus, which increases XP (points) and Stardust.
Nanab berries can also be used calm Pokémon down, lowering their awareness levels — and allowing you to walk around them.
This is a mostly useless capability, but it’s kind of fun!
Pokémon Go’s AR+ Mode was built on Apple’s augmented reality platform ARKit, and it leaves Android users behind (for now).
Apple’s ARKit, announced in June, provides development tools for app makers to integrate augmented reality, or the ability to superimpose virtual elements onto the real world, into their software. The platform, designed exclusively for Apple’s mobile devices, allows developers to tap into the iPhone and iPad’s full range of sensors to create AR experiences.
“[With] the original AR Mode, we were using the design engine in a way it was not really designed to be used. It was not super efficient... the resolution was not great,” said Tatsuo Nomura, a senior product manager at Niantic. “But with ARKit, since it’s designed to use the camera, and the gyro, and all the sensors to do the AR, it feeds in 60 frames per second — the full resolution — and actually uses less battery than the original AR [mode].”
Apple is investing heavily in augmented reality, and its collaboration with Niantic is another indication of its ambitions. In October, CEO Tim Cook told BuzzFeed News the technology “will literally change everything,” and according to a Bloomberg report, the company is working on an AR headset to ship by 2020. At an event showing off Pokemon Go’s new AR+ feature, Greg Joswiak, Apple’s head of iOS marketing, said, “One thing we bring to [AR developers] is a lot of customers,” citing the “hundreds of millions” of devices with iOS 11 installed, ready to run ARKit apps.
Google announced its own mobile AR platform for Android devices in August, called ARCore, and it recently shut down its previous AR efforts, called Project Tango, in order to focus on the ARKit rival. Android, the operating system running 80% of smartphones worldwide, has a big opportunity to lead in this space. But for now, Google’s AR development kit is available only as a “developer preview,” which means the project is still in early stages, and it only supports Google’s own Pixel phones and Samsung’s Galaxy S8. On whether Niantic would develop a version of AR+ for Android devices, Niantic CEO and founder John Hanke wouldn’t say either way: “I’ll leave that for speculation at a future date.”
The AR+ Mode update is now available in the iOS App Store.
Hopefully, this time around, its servers will keep up with load.