Apple unveiled iOS 12 during its recent WWDC 2018 Keynote Address, and with it introduced a bevy of new improvements and features. Most of the announcements revolved around Apple’s ecosystem, improvements to their user experience, and the ways in which they’re combating phone addiction. But one announcement in particular stood out to me for the improvements it could bring to Pokémon Go, as it could potentially pave the way for the most requested features since it released back in 2016.
I’m talking, of course, about ARKit 2. For the unfamiliar, ARKit is the developer toolkit that Apple introduced last year to help make Augmented Reality (AR) not only easier to develop but also technically and practically more capable. This year, with ARKit 2, they’re taking that mission further by implementing a host of new improvements and features, and it will arrive with iOS 12 later this fall. Among its new capabilities, ARKit 2 will establish a unified file format (.usdz), and will allow multiple users to view and interact with the same AR environment, whether it be an object or an entire space. Additionally, ARKit 2 introduces Persistent AR, which allows virtual objects to be placed in a specific location in the real world, allowing users to leave and come back to them at any time. During its reveal, Apple offered an example of a user that can “start a puzzle on a table and come back to it in the same state or create an art project over the coarse of a few weeks without starting over each time.”
While Apple talked about this new toolkit on stage I was instantly excited, but not because of the AR slingshot game they showed, or even the mind-blowing interactive LEGO demonstration that followed, but because of the implications it had for games like Pokémon Go.
Since its release back in 2016, Pokémon Go users have been clamoring for some kind of trade and peer-to-peer battle system. After all, it was something Niantic and The Pokémon Company featured prominently in the game’s announcement/concept video, but is also something Tsunekazu Ishihara, who’s chief executive officer of Pokémon in Tokyo, recently said are features users could expect because they consider them “fundamental Pokémon experiences.” I believe ARKit 2 might finally make these features a compelling reality.
Just think of it: players linking up in the real world, choosing a Pokémon from their arsenal and releasing it into an AR for a battle, or to trade, with the ability to interact with your new companion not just through its information screen, but in AR. ARKit 2’s new functionalities could make all of this not only possible, but achievable in a way that could be even bigger than just the addition of those two long-overdue features.
The concept video I mentioned before often comes to mind whenever I get to talking about the future of Pokémon Go because it set the tone for the game. It got so many of us hyped, and encouraged us to dream about having Pokémon in the real world, only to deliver a much simpler, much more stripped-down version of a game this video pointlessly positioned as something it still doesn’t look anything like two years later. As seasoned gamers, we’re used to seeing breathtaking teasers and concept trailers that rarely ever manage to faithfully represent the game we’ll actually get, because expectations hardly ever mesh well with reality. But after seeing everything that ARKit 2 can do, we’ll soon be in a time where there aren’t any real technical limitations for Pokémon Go to point to as the reason those ideas never managed to live up to their conceptualization. Because ARKit 2 makes everything in that original concept video possible, from the little signs pointing players toward wild Pokémon, to the raid battle that unfolds in the outdoor courtyard.
All this is to say that iOS 12 and ARKit 2 has the potential to champion huge improvements for Pokémon Go, and I sincerely hope that Niantic utilizes them to their fullest potential. These new tools could not only add immersive new features unlike anything we’re seen before, but could also drastically improve existing ones. And with all the renewed interest in the series thanks to the recent announcement of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee!, there’s never been a better time to implement such changes.
It all seems like an inevitability, especially given Pokémon Go’s previous collaborations with Apple, but we’ve been let down before. Only time will tell.