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A Pokémon Go retrospective: how an augmented reality game changed everything

For those of you who weren’t hopelessly addicted to Pokémon Go last summer, let’s review. Pokémon Go is a location-based, augmented reality mobile game. Go lets users create trainer profiles and go out into the world to find and catch Pokémon that appear onscreen as if they are exactly where you are.

The game blew up. Local interest points like cafes, patios, park sculptures and fountains became PokéStops where trainers could pick up useful items like lures and Poké Balls. Public spaces became Gyms where trainers could battle their strongest Pokémon. Local businesses embraced their PokéStop status and ran unique Poké-inspired marketing campaigns to drive further foot traffic to their doors. It was a golden age of augmented reality gaming.

A gateway game

As awesome as it was in its hey-day, Pokémon Go was anything but bug-free. We’re not just talking about the frequent crashes, the infamous three-step-glitch or the sheer derth of rare or unique Pokémon (I myself quit Pokémon Go when I simply couldn’t bring myself to face another Zubat, but more on this later). Pokémon Go drew criticism for its accident-prone players, its questionable use of memorial sites as Poké-stops, the inability to battle other trainers outside of Gyms and the lack of activities for those in rural areas.

augmented reality

So what did Pokémon Go really accomplish? After all, player interest petered out heavily after the summer. Peak user levels were recorded in mid July 2016 and by September 2016, Pokémon Go had lost 79% of its trainers.

The biggest takeaway from Pokémon Go seemed to be that augmented reality was here, in a big way, to stay. Pokémon Go made augmented reality approachable and normal. People of all ages were hooked. It was simple to navigate and integrate an augmented reality game into your everyday. The game got people outside where they explored their neighborhoods and discovered new businesses. Sure, Pokémon Go wasn’t perfect, but maybe the most important insight it gave us was that the world was ready to embrace, collectively and quickly, a relatively new kind of mobile technology.

Why not virtual?

The first contemporary rumblings of virtual reality landing in people’s hands came with the Oculus Rift kickstarter campaign in 2012.  Several VR headsets have since hit the market including Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and the PlayStation VR.

While VR has its appeal, its not poised for massive appeal the way AR may be. Why? Access to VR isn’t for everyone. Headsets come with a price tag and they’re not the most portable tech. And while the reasonably accessible Google Cardboard is a great way to experience VR, as far as design goes, Cardboard isn’t a tool for ever day use. By the way, if you really want to experience VR and don’t want to take the hit financially, you should totally enter our contest to win a Samsung Gear VR and a Samsung S7 on us.

You know what is accessible? A smartphone. You might have heard of them. Big industry players like Google and Facebook are invested in augmented reality, location-based tech and the movement towards mobile camera-as-keyboard.

Facebook’s take on augmented reality

In April 2017 Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook Camera Effects, the social network’s take on Snapchat filters. While Camera Effects are by no means revolutionary, Zuckerberg indicated where Facebook wanted to take AR, hinting at a glasses concept that would project virtual objects over what you see. This can range from a chessboard that you interact with to a TV screen that you watch.

Google Assistant’s camera

In May 2017, Google announced that its digital Assistant would be able to search by sight using your smartphone’s camera. Here’s one example: say you go over to a friend’s house and need the Wi-Fi. With Google Assistant, you’d just point your camera at the login credentials on the side of your friend’s modem. Then, Assistant would automatically use those credentials to get you online.

Apple launches ARKit

At their annual 2017 World Wide Developer’s Conference, Apple announced ARKit, a suite of tools that help developers integrate augmented reality into their apps. ARKit allows for “fast and stable motion tracking.” So, when a wild Pikachu appears on-screen, its going to integrate naturally into the space your camera is capturing. Pikachu will stand on the ground or on a bench instead of hovering awkwardly in the air. It’s a step in the right direction for AR in general and is was lauded by Niantic (the developer behind Pokémon Go) CEO John Hanke.

The future of Pokémon Go

Niantic plans to keep their 65 million Pokémon Go players hooked on the AR game with new features to be launched this summer. Expect legendary Pokémon and competitive play where players can battle each other.

Wait, legendary Pokémon? If Niantic is willing to correct the Zubat overpopulation surrounding my apartment and introduce new and unique Pokémon, then maybe I’ll have to rethink my exit from training.

Show of hands, who’s still playing Pokémon Go?