Pokémon Go looks set to propel augmented reality (AR) to the top of the gaming world ahead of virtual technology (VR), the much-hyped technology that has been the talk of town for the past few years.
Pokémon Go is Nintendo’s latest foray into the world of mobile apps. The app marries a 20-year-old franchise with AR and location-based technology to allow users—through their smartphones—to catch virtual creatures in real-life locations.
The combination of readily available technology along with a healthy dose of nostalgia has gotten the world on its feet and people out of their houses. It is reported that Pokémon Go is bringing in close to US$2m in revenue daily through in-game transactions. Within two days of its release, the game had increased Nintendo’s market value by US$7.5 billion.
AR is technology that overlays digital images over the real world. AR games and apps have been around for a long time. Numerous games and apps have been developed, but none has taken off the way Pokémon Go has. Part of the reason for this is the prevalence of a different technology that has been making headlines for the past few years: VR. While AR superimposes elements into the surroundings, VR completely replaces the surroundings with a digital world, creating a deeply immersive experience.
However, users of VR need a specific headset, earphones, and an advanced computer in order to enjoy the full experience. Compared with AR, which, at this point, only requires a smartphone, the requirements to get started with VR are significantly greater.
While the VR experience is deeply immersive, it is also one that is closed-off and is done alone, while AR games can become inherently social experiences. Every part of the AR experience can be shared and looked at with others, while dialogue can be created. Pokémon Go has proven that the masses very much prefer interactive technology that uses our tangible surroundings as a platform for the imaginary.
In the specific case of Pokémon Go, it is not just AR for the sake of AR. It is a surge of nostalgia that hits millennials in the perfect spot. What Nintendo has created for millennials is their very first mass-consumption nostalgia product. For a lot of millennials—for a long time the younger generation—seeing these creatures again is a lot like revisiting their youth, akin to reconnecting with old friends.
The features in Pokémon Go are only a glimpse of what the future holds for AR. Aside from gaming, the prospect of imposing digital information and images onto other aspects of life suddenly became a lot more attractive too. Architects and interior designers can show clients multiple completed versions of a site. Tourists can now understand foreign signs with ease and customers even get to “try on” tattoos.
Despite all of the above, VR will get its day. Many companies, including Facebook, have invested in VR technology and its potential is too big to ignore. However, in the near future, AR looks readiest to take over the world.