If you think of the recently launched Pokemon Go as just some dumb game that makes people stumble through the streets obliviously, you’d be partly right. It does in fact seem to have the effect of making people amble about oblivious to their surroundings. But there are a couple of other angles that may not have occurred to you, and one of them is potentially huge. First of all, it’s not “some dumb game”. I’m not a gamer at all, and haven’t played Pokemon Go. If you’re of like mind, but haven’t pondered how brilliant the design of the game actually is, this Tech Crunch piece breaks it down with astute, plain-English analysis. But there’s another aspect of Pokemon Go that doesn’t get talked about much. While it’s quite significant that the app had more users than Twitter in the first week, and those users spent more time on the app than they did on Facebook, what was even more significant was what the main function of the app actually is. Yes, it’s a game, but it’s an augmented reality game. Pokemon Go managed to roll out an augmented reality app with more users than Twitter, without ever using the term “augmented reality”.
Why is this a big deal? I first wrote humorously about augmented reality back in 2011, when it was still being referred to as “Terminator Vision”. At the time, it was fun to joke about, because the concept was still pretty much just that – a concept. But if you haven’t been keeping up on the field, this piece from 2013 by Michael Poh is a good backgrounder, which highlights a number of the obvious applications, like shopping, travel, and education. Things have come a long way in just another three years though. Remember Google Glass? Well, in spite of the fact that MIT Review wrote its obituary in 2014, the concept behind it will not be going away any time soon. One of the companies that has generated the most buzz lately is Magic Leap. Here’s one of their demos. Someday soon, you’ll be able to share virtual objects with your friends in person, on demand. The only questions remaining are who will get there first, and what the platform and hardware requirements will be. Pokemon Go proved that the market is there, and merely awaits the right solution.