People all over the world are downloading the app, and running around and hunting the elusive Pokémon. As with any global craze, this one also inevitably brings its own share of accidents, crimes and even deaths, as people pay more attention to catching the next beast than their own safety.
Carried away by the hype, some analysts have claimed that Pokémon has finally made augmented reality (AR) mainstream. They’re saying the game is proof that AR is now accessible and fun, and that the community has matured enough to embrace it fully.
Although I wish it were the case, I don’t agree. AR implementation in Pokémon Go is great, but so far, it’s only because it fits so well in the world of Pokémon. Think about it: In other games in the Nintendo Co. franchise, you play as a Pokémon trainer whose goal is to collect various Pokémon, train them and duel other trainers. The app allows this scenario to be relived on your mobile device, but this time in the real world, using the magic of GPS and 3D content overlay.
Add to it the social aspect of meeting fellow trainers and the rush you feel every time another exotic critter is added to your collection, and it’s easy to see why Pokémon Go can be so addictive. Its AR implementation is unobtrusive, and it plays off the familiarity of the world-famous franchise. The concept and the user interface are simple, making the game easy to learn and master.
This particular app may be going mainstream, but it doesn’t necessarily mean AR is following suit. Pokémon Go is a closed ecosystem. It can’t communicate with other AR systems and interfaces simply because there aren’t (m)any. If AR were indeed going mainstream, there would already be a growing number of AR devices, apps and websites that Pokémon Go could integrate with, which at the moment simply isn’t the case.
But what about Ingress, an AR game made by Niantic — the same studio that developed Pokémon Go — and which had 7 million players in 2015?
That’s a lot of players, right? Doesn’t that mean AR has finally become mainstream? Not necessarily. For something to be considered a part of mainstream culture, it has to be adopted and thought of as familiar by the majority of the population.
Another important prerequisite for AR to go mainstream is a device that would enable its seamless integration into a user’s daily life. Such a device would need to reach the market penetration of an average Android phone, be unobtrusive, intelligent and allow the user to switch between AR and CR (consensus reality) effortlessly and at will. It would also need to be affordable.
If you think your smartphone fits the bill, just read all the headlines about people getting hit by cars, causing accidents and getting mugged because they’re paying too much attention to their small screens and not enough to their surroundings. If your argument is that it can also happen to people using other devices, try holding your phone for three hours in front of your face as you walk around and go about your business, and then tell me it’s seamless and effortless. Our smartphones can be used for many things, but they still aren’t designed to be AR devices.
I’m not saying an AR transition to the mainstream market couldn’t happen soon. In fact, it might occur sooner than you think, and Pokémon Go could play a role in it, but I don’t think it will be pivotal.
My guess is that in the near future, a device that might bring AR to every home and business could function a lot like Microsoft Corp.’s HoloLens.
Still, it would need to be slimmer, sexier and cheaper than the current version of the device. It would tether to your smartphone for processing power and online functionality, and allow the user to wear it as a part of her usual attire. In other words, it should be everything Microsoft HoloLens shows in its somewhat misleading earlier ads, while looking like a fashionable pair of “normal” glasses.
You would use the device to navigate Google maps, see interactive ads, play games and much more, taking them off as often as you usually remove a set of prescription glasses. These AR glasses would need to cost as much as an average smartphone, with a battery that would last at least four hours or so. They would be light and using them would not require touching them physically or speaking out loud — simply moving your fingers or eyes would be enough.
Such a device could bring a full breadth of AR potential to user’s fingertips, and its use would be effortless and simple. Through its mass adoption, the device would also create numerous money-making opportunities for businesses and individuals, which would fuel its evolution and further adoption. As its potential is recognized, new and improved competing AR devices would saturate the market, creating an entire niche of new business models and reinventing older ones. Only then could we say that AR truly went mainstream.
Here’s what your augmented day might look like:
Pokémon Go is doing much better than Candy Crush Saga, and it’s more interesting. Plus, it’s showing that AR has a bright future if implemented correctly. But, no, it’s nowhere near being mainstream.
What do you think about the short film above? Is AR really something to look forward to? Let me know in the comment section below.