Based in San Francisco, Niantic is the world's leading AR technology company. Known for specialising in augmented reality mobile games, you've probably already played - or at least heard of - the company's biggest success to date: Pokémon Go.

Discover everything you need to know about Niantic, as we explore the company's history, successes and latest projects below.

Who are Niantic?

Today, Niantic is renowned for championing the world of AR mobile gaming, but it didn't start out that way. In fact, the company has a history that dates back to 2001 - long before the company was officially established.

CEO John Hanke was behind the creation of Keyhole Inc and its product Keyhole EarthView. The first of its kind, Keyhole EarthView enabled users to zoom into interactive 3D maps of Earth, helping users to explore the world around them from a computer or laptop.

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This technology probably sounds familiar, and that's because Google bought Keyhole EarthView in 2004 before renaming it Google Earth. Between 2005 and 2009, the team behind Keyhole Inc helped to develop Google Earth even further, leading to the Google Maps you know today.

Fast forward to 2010, and Niantic Labs was born. A startup launched within Google and lead once again by John Hanke, its mission was an ambitious one. The team set out to combine their knowledge of mobile and interactive 3D mapping to create a unique smartphone gameplay experience that encouraged exploration and discovery, improved real world social interaction and motivated people to exercise.

And it worked. By building the first planet-scale augmented reality platform, Niantic's creations - including Pokémon Go and Harry Potter Wizards Unite – lead to players walking over 16.3 billion kilometres in 2019 alone.

First Steps

Niantic released its first ever AR game - Ingress - to Android users in October 2013, and for iOS users in July 2014. It drops players into a world where an unknown force called XM has recently been discovered as a by-product of the Higgs boson research. Associated with an alien race, players act as agents and can choose to join one of two teams: The Resistance or The Enlightened.

Each team - or faction - has a different philosophy on how XM should be used. The Enlightened want to harness the power to help mankind evolve and progress, while The Resistance believe in stability want to contain XM to protect humanity should it fall into the wrong hands.

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The goal of Ingress is for teams to take over real-world portals (the source of XM) using GPS and the AR interface to locate them. After the success of Niantic's other releases in the years to follow, Ingress was actually relaunched in 2018, and it is now known as Ingress Prime. The revamped version not only featured a slightly different backstory and improved graphics, it also utilised Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore for an even more immersive, streamlined AR gaming experience.

Pokémon Go

Niantic's next venture into AR gaming involved a partnership with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. Now played by millions worldwide, Pokémon Go truly put Niantic on the map as AR experts when it was launched in 2016.

Available for iOS and Android, the free-to-play app once again uses both GPS and AR to bring Pokémon into a player's real-world location.

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Not only can you quite literally catch Pokémon in your living room or while you're on your walk to the shop, you can also battle others, complete exclusive research tasks and take part in special events to earn in-game prizes and encounter rare Pokémon. Within its first year, Pokémon Go had been downloaded over 5 million times - and its popularity keeps on growing. 2020 was reported as the game's most profitable year yet, hitting the $1 billion mark in October and surpassing 2019's total of $902 million.

Harry Potter Wizards Unite

Following in Pokémon Go's footsteps, Niantic's next project focuses on bringing the world of Harry Potter to life. In collaboration with WB Games San Francisco, you can explore the wizarding world and all the magical creatures within it on foot with Harry Potter Wizards Unite.

Released in June 2019, Harry Potter Wizards Unite draws inspiration from both Ingress and Pokémon Go. Open the game up and you'll see a map of your current location - however, it won't look the same. Real-world locations will have a twist, and you can cast spells, discover mysterious artefacts, battle legendary beasts and even interact with iconic characters from the show.

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When you first download the game, you will get the chance to choose an avatar (which will vary depending on location), your wizarding house and a wand. You can also select a profession, and play a Professor, Auror or Magizoologist. As you explore, you'll be able to stop off at inns to replenish energy for spells, greenhouses to grow ingredients for potions or fortresses where you'll find dark wizards and beasts awaiting battle.

We're sure Niantic has plenty more to add to the world of AR smartphone gaming, but if you want to try one of its current games simply head to the Google Play Store or Apple's App Store. And if you fancy a new handset to experience them on, you're guaranteed to find a fantastic deal here at Mobiles.co.uk.