Pokémon GO became a cultural phenomenon in the summer of 2016 when it launched on Android and iOS devices. Fans of the series, both casual and devoted, roamed the world capturing Pokémon with the game’s augmented reality mode. However, that mode was pretty basic and not worth the battery drain long-term. Now, developer Niantic is preparing to roll out a new “AR+” mode that makes Pokémon look like they’re truly part of the world around you.
In its current form, Pokémon GO’s AR mode projects the image of a Pokémon on the camera feed. The critter remains locked in one location along the left to right axis, but the game doesn’t know anything about the environment. It’s only using your device’s sensors to figure out how far you’re rotating the phone. Walking forward won’t get you closer to the Pokémon. They just float along in front of you, the landscape passing beneath them.
Niantic first showed off the upcoming AR+ mode at Apple’s WWDC in June, which it did because AR+ is based on Apple’s ARKit engine. The game places the Pokémon in a specific location when they appear, so walking closer actually does something. Walking up to a Pokémon too quickly can spook them, causing them to flee before you can catch them. Do it carefully, and you get a bonus for being an “expert handler.” They’re also easier to catch if you get close, thanks to the larger bonus targets.
ARKit gives apps and games the ability to add objects to the virtual world and track their positions. It’s a natural fit for Pokémon GO, and it could actually make the additional battery drain worthwhile if there are added game elements.
Pokémon GO players on Android won’t be able to experience the new AR+ mode, sadly. ARKit has been Apple’s main augmented reality offering for developers over the last year, but Google had been pushing the Tango platform. Tango was more capable with full 3D sensing hardware, but there were only a few phones that included it. Google announced an early version of its ARCore framework earlier this year, and it now plans to discontinue Tango support in a few months.
Maybe after ARCore is a bit more mature, the Android version of Pokémon GO will get AR+. For now, Niantic is only planning to add it to the iOS version. The AR+ update should be in the App Store later this week.