Pokémon Go boss predicts more Google Glass-like failures before AR dreams become a reality

Alistair Charlton 17 October 2017

Expect more Google Glass-like failures before the perfect augmented reality glasses come to be, says John Hanke, boss of Niantic, developers of hit AR game Pokémon Go.

The chief executive believes that "the future of AR is immense" — once the right glasses are developed. Only then will the technology be mature enough to blossom.

Hanke spoke at the Wall Street Journal's D.Live conference on Tuesday, encouraging tech companies to work together in building what he believes could be the perfect AR glasses — or a version of Google Glass that people actually want to buy, and wear. At that stage, the future for AR is very bright indeed, he says. Popular devices, for example, have an Achilles heel that AR could potentially fix — such as having to read directions by looking down at a smartphone, instead of the details flashed in front of your eyes.

"The cellphone is great, but the UI is not perfect," Hanke said, reports Engadget. "It's not the ideal interface for getting information into our minds. AR has the potential to build interfaces that allow this to happen in a much more natural way."

Hanke does give a nod towards mobile phones and platforms like Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore, as a great starting point for AR to become mainstream. "I think it's awesome to see giants of technology pivot towards AR," Hanke said, adding: "If you want to build a product, you build it on a platform that [already] exists."

Apple's Tim Cook “may be sandbagging" when he says glasses are five years away. For Magic Leap, it could be one year ~ @johnhanke #WSJDLive pic.twitter.com/crhmop3ZnI
— WSJ Tech (@WSJTech) October 17, 2017

Like Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has championed AR over virtual reality (VR) for some time, Hanke said: "VR is the ultimate escapist entertainment, [but] AR is woven into your daily lives. I think AR will make a thousand things we do on our phones significantly better...AR on the phone is a stepping stone".

Hanke agrees that Glass "didn't do enough", he says. But the Niantic boss thinks we shouldn't be surprised to see more AR failures on the road towards a successful device — stepping stones such as Microsoft HoloLens and the mysterious Magic Leap. A commercially successful AR, though, is still "a few years out...We'll have to give it multiple tries before it really breaks in," he warns.

Apple's Cook has also stated he thinks the so-called perfect AR glasses are at least five years out. But Hanke believes the Apple boss is just "sandbagging" — or deliberately saying AR tech will take longer to arrive than Apple really believes.

For AR glasses to get truly usable — AR glasses which deliver on promises so badly missed by Google Glass — the industry will traverse down a road of "immense problems," Hanke says, potholes that will "be solved collectively by the industry."