Post-Pokémon GO: The future of augmented reality

Clare Hopping

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Pokémon GO has set a precedent for augmented reality and manufacturers are starting to integrate it into hardware thanks to Google Tango, but how will this change the future of gaming and marketing?

Pokémon GO has been the most successful game for Android and iOS devices in the past five years. Forget Angry Birds – chasing and capturing critters from inside your own environment has become an obsession for millions of people around the world.

What has made the game so successful is its smart use of augmented reality (AR), encouraging people to explore their local area as their avatar and then overlaying Pokémon to capture in their true surroundings using the device’s camera. They can take part in battles and train at the ‘gym’ or buy new objects to aid their quest from Pokéstops, which are located at local landmarks.

Before Pokémon GO, AR had a bit of a stuttering start and mainstream AR devices such as Google Glass and Microsoft’s HoloLens experienced some adoption barriers.

But thanks to the combination of technologies implemented into Pokémon GO, AR has become sophisticated, immersive and believable, and it’s something everyone has their sights set on.

The tech behind Pokémon GO

Unlike virtual reality, which puts the user in a make-believe world, AR takes the real world and places make-believe objects in it. In the case of Pokémon GO, this is the avatar you become, Pokémon and the Pokéballs you use to capture them.

It combines GPS, mapping and satellite services with location services, landmarks in the user’s environment and Nintendo’s familiar characters. Much of the technology has been developed by ex-Alphabet employees who helped develop Google Maps and Google Earth. Niantic Labs, Pokémon GO’s creator, began as an Alphabet project and the company created Ingress, a location-based game which was the foundation for many of the technologies used in Pokémon GO.

Ingress users recommended places in their local area that should be used as Pokéstops in Pokémon GO, for example, so it has a clear community aspect too.

Where AR is going

Pokémon GO has taught developers that to make a successful AR app, they must build the platform around technologies already available, with an immersive experience unlike anything else. Using a franchise like Pokémon has its benefits, but that’s not the reason Pokémon GO has been so successful – the key is creating something totally new, merging technology with the familiar.

Many businesses are already using AR to attract and entertain customers, whether that’s via the use of interactive catalogues that allow people to see pieces of furniture in a situation or clothing on their own body to try before they buy, and this is a trend that’s expected to grow. Digi-Capital predicts the AR industry will be worth $90bn (£69bn) by 2020 and businesses need to take advantage of this to ensure they stay ahead of their competitors.

This competitive edge is evident in Tango – a technology platform developed and authored by Google, and complemented by apps specifically created to bring ‘normal’ environments to life. Manufacturers including Lenovo are making this platform the focus of their hardware, and our Phab 2 Pro is the first device to throw AR onto the big screen, bringing experiences to life.

Before a business decides to invest in AR technologies, it’s vital they’re aware of the metrics they want to measure or actions they want to trigger. Is it advertising, helping to make a purchase decision, or a functional app to help employees carry out their daily tasks?

Making experiences relevant, immersive and fun, whether in the workplace or on the high street, is key to the future of AR, and developers and hardware manufacturers must work together to ensure these objectives are met. Until then, we’re off to chase Wartortles, Raichus and Clefables.

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