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Tiffany Haddish speaks at the Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Celebration Event on June 18, 2019. Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for WB Games

This week's release of "Harry Potter: Wizards Unite" isn't just the debut of a highly anticipated mobile game: it's also a glimpse into the future of augmented reality and location-based gaming.

Why it matters: This gives Niantic, which also is the San Francisco-based creator of "Ingress" and "Pokemon Go," a chance to show how it can work with partners — and begin to turn the game system it has created into a platform others companies can build upon.

Details: In an interview, Niantic CEO John Hanke said much of the "Harry Potter" gameplay, user interface and animations were developed by Warner Bros., with Niantic contributing a lot of the technology.

What's next: Hanke said that Niantic now has a rich platform built on real-world points of interest and "spawn points" along with multiplayer battle mechanics. The next step is to get more outside developers working on it.

  • "It really creates an awesome palette for a team that wants to come in and build something," Hanke said.
  • The next step in that process is a contest for developers with their own ideas on what could be built on top of that platform.
  • This week, Niantic announced 10 finalists for that effort.

The big picture: Hanke said "Wizards Unite" reflects lessons learned from "Pokémon Go."

  • The AR features, for example, don't require players to keep holding their phone in front of them, a nod to the fact that many "Pokémon Go" players turned off the feature.
  • And while "Wizards Unite" also encourages people to get out and walk, Hanke said there are more things that can be done at home or work, without having to walk outside.

Niantic is also building pieces that will become more relevant when AR moves from the phone screen to some sort of glasses, a leap that is still a bit away.

  • "We’re really excited about glasses," Hanke said. "It’s a handful of years out. Probably not next year, but probably not too far off."

Plus:

  • Hanke, who wore a Gryffindor scarf to work Thursday, said he has played a lot of Harry Potter games and promised that "Wizards Unite" comes the "closest to any of enabling that fantasy, certainly my fantasy, of becoming a wizard."
  • As for Niantic's recent move to drop Apple Watch support, Hanke said it was a question of resources that could better be used serving all players rather than a small subset. But, he said he remains "enamored" with the Apple Watch and wearables, particularly as they become standalone devices. "This is sort of a temporary retreat from this space. I suspect we will be back."
  • Watch for a "Harry Potter: Wizards Unite" event later this summer, Hanke added.

Go deeper: How to play "Harry Potter: Wizards Unite"

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.