Every technology needs a killer app and Augmented Reality now has Pokémon Go. The hit mobile game folds the fictional world of Pokémon into the real world, using location-based technology to let players hunt for wild Magikarp and Geodudes roaming around them.
Viewing the world through a smartphone camera, the idea is to seek out these colourful Pokémon and capture them in a live Pokébattle. Crucially, rather than sit inside staring at a screen, or wearing a VR helmet, Pokémon Go encourages players to get outside and explore. The further you wander, the more you’ll discover.
What’s interesting is that Pokémon Go isn’t a great game. The mechanics are simple (catch Pokémon) and the battles can be repetitive. But it’s proving to be a compelling social experience, capturing the imagination of young and old. As Bob O’Donnell points out on recode.net:
“The game’s incredible, nearly overnight success now means that almost no one will ever need to explain what augmented reality is.”
It also reminds us that Augmented Reality entertainment is a serious rival to VR. With all the focus on VR-ready PCs, the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR, it’s easy to lose sight of just how powerful AR can be in the right hands. Pokémon Go’s developer, Niantic, is no stranger to it, having previously developed the massively-multiplayer mobile game Ingress.
Augmented Reality is also far more accessible than VR, instantly available to anyone who owns a smartphone. But AR on our phones is only the beginning. The future of this mixed reality technology arguably lies in headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens and smart glasses like those planned by Magic Leap and those already on sale from Vuzix.
Although designed for Enterprise use, the Vuzix M300 is a hands-free, head-tracking wearable that can be paired with an Android or iOS device. Rather than staring down at a smartphone screen, AR data is projected on a small nHD display worn in front of the eye. It’s the equivalent, says Vuzix, of looking at a 5-inch screen held 14 inches away.
Augmented Reality systems like this are designed to be flexible. Microsoft’s HoloLens has been used to play games like Minecraft, while Vuzix has recently announced a partnership with International Drone Racing Association for its iWear Video Headphones. If Google Glass was still around, Pokémon Go would have been the perfect fit for it.
Pokémon Go is arguably the Wii Sports for Augmented Reality, an accessible, easy-to-play, active experience that can be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike. It puts the technology back on the map, front and centre in the public consciousness. Nobody knows how long the Pokémon craze will last, but at some point its players will come to ask the same question…
“So, what else can Augmented Reality do?”
In the Enterprise space, AR is already helping in areas such as engineering, logistics and tele-medicine. For consumers there are apps that overlay all manner of useful data over what you see, such as directions, weather info or useful information about the shops, services and landmarks around you. AR might even change the way you watch TV.
So while it’s easy to be dismissive about a game that has people chasing down cuddly Caterpies and elusive Psyducks, Pokémon Go is introducing people to a mixed reality world they didn’t know existed and new ways of interacting with digital data. As an exercise in teaching people about the potential of Augmented Reality, this could be a watershed moment.