By Luke Goodsall.
There was recently a big update for the world's favourite location-based AR game, Pokémon GO. With it came new Pokémon, new items and a whole host of improvements to the game. But if Pokémon GO is the quintessential AR game, what does that mean for AR as a whole? If people think that this is the pinnacle of AR for the forseeable future, how can AR hope to truly progress?
Part of the problem is that for the most part, Pokémon GO isn't, at it's core, an Augmented Reality game. It's actually a location-based game with one very specific AR component, yet it is described, arguably incorrectly, as an AR game. Another part of the problem is that the AR component is a very basic implementation and isn't a good showcase of what AR is really capable of. Yet another part, possibly the biggest part, is that it has been massively successful.
Pokémon Go, at the time it came out, was the highest-grossing app on the App and Play stores, no question. It generated so much revenue in it's opening weekend, the shares of the companies behind it skyrocketed. Even today, it is still one of the highest-grossing apps, just perhaps not the one at the very top. Because of this, it has become the AR game to beat, with every other AR game coming out after it either being a clone designed to ride on it's coattails, or something that simply doesn't come close to the same levels of success. It spread so far and wide to so many people that it even got covered by the mainstream media, meaning that even those who weren't playing it knew what it was and started forming opinions about what they think AR is. So when somebody thinks of an AR game, especially on mobile, you can be sure they're thinking of Pokémon GO.
This leaves us with a situation where people think about AR and then think “Oh yeah, like Pokémon GO”, which is a problem, because AR is capable of so much more, but the public has been misled as to what it really is. As far as the public is concerned, AR is just a cute little Pokémon projected onto a phone screen, and not very realistically at that.
Imagine you're sat in a room with a window that looks out into another room. Inside this other room is a group of people walking around with cameras doing science. These are the people actually researching Augmented Reality technologies and Computer Vision, who are trying to make the future of AR more capable and more accessible to app developers. But overall, watching that science all the time would be boring, right? All you can see is just some people walking around, you're not interested in all that. But now, somebody has come along and hung a really nice painting over the window. Suddenly, it's really nice to look at. Suddenly, you're super interested and it has your full attention, if only for a short time. But while you're happy looking at that painting, it has nothing to do with the science going on behind it, and what's more, you can no longer see the scientists working. You can only see the painting now. This is what Pokémon GO does to the field of AR. It's fun, sure, and it's popular, but it obfuscates what all the AR companies are trying to achieve. It stimulates hype, but what people think is hype about AR is really just more hype about Pokémon. While this is obviously good for Nintendo, it isn't exactly helpful to companies actively trying to develop AR technology.
It will take something on a similar scale to change opinions about Augmented Reality. If the rumours are true, Apple will be making some AR-related announcements at their yearly WWDC event in June, which will likely be in relation to the mobile AR markets. In addition to this, Microsoft announced what it called a “five-year journey” with HoloLens™ in January 2015 and rolled out Developer Editions of the headset in March 2016, meaning that in all likelihood we will start seeing consumer-level advertising for Microsoft's Head-Mounted Display in 2019. These are the kinds of big events that can cause a global shift in public opinion, which is what is needed if true AR is to leave the Pokémon-shaped shadow it has found itself under.