Pokémon Go Gets an Augmented Reality Upgrade

Pokémon Go is using Apple’s ARKit framework to boost its augmented reality features in an upcoming update. Using Apple’s developer platform, the game will be able to track the world around it more accurately, detect horizontal planes, and more.


Pokémon Go took over the entire world during the first few months following its summer 2016 release. A number of players on both iOS and Android have left the augmented reality (AR) game behind in the months since, but it’s set to get a significant update to its AR capabilities the week of December 17th that may bring some back.

In the current version of Pokémon Go, if the AR feature is turned on, the digital pocket monsters will appear at various places on the screen, completely ignoring the environment around them. This ultimately makes it look less than stellar if you went into the game hoping that wild Pikachu would run around the tree you’re standing next to. Many players elected to turn off the AR feature for this reason, but also because leaving it on put a sizable strain on a smartphone’s battery life.

With the new AR+ update Niantic has set to release, however, players may finally get the AR experience they were hoping for, and without their battery life taking a hit. This is all possible thanks to Apple’s ARKit framework that’s arrived as part of iOS 11


As explained by The Verge, Pokémon you encounter during your morning walk will now behave differently than they used to. Animated bushes will appear on the ground, flying Pokémon will hover in the air, and ground-based creatures will jump up and down and move from one side of the iPhone’s screen to the other, interacting with their surroundings as they do so.

This is accomplished through a combination of ARKit’s Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) — which enables iOS 11 devices to track the world around them and “sense how it moves within a room” — and Scene Understanding — which allows the same devices to detect horizontal surfaces like tables, and track and place objects on “smaller feature points.”

“I think the best AR applications are going to be the ones that have a reason for existing beyond the AR feature,” said Hanke. “We’re not trying to create the entirety of the value from just that [AR]. It has more [of] an impact because it’s part of this very large and popular game.” As for the update coming to Android via Google’s ARCore platform, Hanke said he’d leave that to speculation.


Pokémon Go isn’t the first time we’ve seen smartphone apps try to improve people’s lives or entertain them. It was only a couple of months ago that startup Curiscope debuted their Virtuali-Tee, which utilizes both AR and Virtual Reality (VR) to allow people to see their own anatomy. Around the same time, Snapchat partnered with artist Jeff Koons to bring his sculptures to various parts of the world for people to see using AR.

If you’re looking for something a little more complex, the MekaMon robots can fight it out with each other in AR, with all of the action shown — and controlled — on a smartphone.

In the business world, look no further than Ford and Volkswagen using AR to design their vehicles in an attempt to encourage creativity and collaboration.

There’s no doubt that AR is going to continue impacting our lives, and it’s certainly an exciting time for anyone interested in the technology. Even Hanke expects AR to become more advanced, calling Pokémon Go‘s upcoming update “step one.” One can only imagine what step two will bring.