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Google's iPhone-to-Android multiplayer AR feels like the future

Next-gen Pokemon, here we come.

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Multiplayer AR gaming is here.

Scott Stein/CNET

When will we start to experience multiplayer augmented reality that blends a shared space between phones? Oh, in the next couple of weeks. While AR and VR announcements were generally on the quiet front at this year's Google I/O Developer Conference, a new update to Google's ARCore called Cloud Anchors is extremely exciting.

Let me explain, because I just played a game with it and it was really cool.

If you're curious, you can actually download and try Google's first iOS-to-Android Cloud Anchor experiment, an doodling app called Just A Line, that became available since I wrote this story.

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Cloud Anchors are shared points of data shared in the cloud that multiple devices can access. AR on phones, like ARKit on iPhone and ARCore on Android, have been solitary experiences. The same is true for headsets like Hololens. The only AR multiplayer I ever tried before was Star Wars Jedi Challenges on a Lenovo headset, and that was more like synchronized swimming where two people match moves at the same time.

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Setting 

Scott Stein/CNET

Light Board is a Google-made game demo for both iOS and Android that works across phones using Cloud Anchors, demonstrated here at Google's conference. I set up a little home base full of colored target markers, and someone from Google did the same on an Android phone across the room. I shot virtual missiles at their target, and they shot at mine. Whoever lights up all the targets first wins. 

The game feels like other ARKit or ARCore games, layering 3D effects on top of the real world through the phone screen. But here, we're both playing and sharing the experience simultaneously.

There's a huge possibility for communal multiplayer AR board games, or next-gen Pokemon battles, or magic spell fights. But the killer apps here could lie in communal shared-space ideas beyond games. Google suggests group murals, but also large-scale educational projects, installation art, ways to map and layer information in spaces. It feels like one of the first steps toward multiuser AR, cross-platform no less, and that's a very big thing indeed.

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