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Augmented Reality Gets Boost From Pokemon Go

Ryan Kh, @ryankhgb
09.28.16
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Technology is nothing if not unpredictable. And so it was with the release of Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game that broke a slew of world records and catapulted an obscure technology sector into the headlines — all within a mere two months of its release. As we look back at Pokemon Go's hyper-viral success, the game's developer is surprised, gamers are more obsessed than ever, and Big Business is starting to give augmented reality a good, hard look.

Who Would Have Guessed?

And, yet, Pokemon Go is more than a game. It has shown itself to be a game changer. Case in point: Apple CEO Tim Cook — a man not known for following the crowd — is impressed enough with Pokemon Go's success to focus Apple's resources on augmented reality. With global augmented reality revenue projected to reach $90 billion by 2020, he just might be onto something.

Tim Cook is also a man of his word. In September, Apple and Nintendo announced that Pokemon Go is coming to the Apple iWatch. The app will be included in the Series 2 release, which is planned for late 2016. The iWatch version of the game will also include cool features like a calorie counter, so you can keep track of how many calories you burn as you hunt down Pokemon.

Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality

The term virtual reality is probably not new to you. From movies to science fiction novels to high-tech games, VR, as the techies like to call it, has found a seat at the table of mainstream technology. And it is easy to see why. The concept of replacing real-life reality with a new-and-improved one is a bad idea to nobody. And by now, who has not seen a movie character, or a neighbor's oddball son, wearing a VR headset?

Thanks to Pokemon Go, you and everyone born since July have now also heard of VR's lesser-known cousin, augmented reality, or AR. Whereas VR uses an enclosed headset to immerse the user in a "virtual" reality of images and sounds, AR uses visor-type headsets, special glasses, or mobile devices with which to layer text and images over the user's physical environment.

The differences in how the two work make each suitable for different markets. But if you think the hitherto-obscure augmented reality is somehow inferior to its virtual counterpart, you're sadly mistaken. While the AR market, as we said, is expected to reach $90 billion by 2020, the market for VR technology is expected to reach only $30 billion. Leave it to a free game to right the record.

Why Pokemon Go Has Made an Impact?

How can a free game bring AR technology to the attention of the public and business, alike? The answer is simple, and lies in a fundamental aspect of human nature. But we will get to that in a moment.

The game, in case you don't know, involves nothing more than viewing streets, parking lots, businesses, and other locations using the camera of one's mobile device. Not only is the actual scenery visible, but so are little critters called Pokemon, when you can find them. And you will. Using your device's Camera, GPS, and clock, the Pokemon Go server will place Pokemon all around you. Some are harder to find than others, but the hunt is the funnest part. When you see one, you use your mobile device to flick a Pokeball at it and capture it.

The free game is monetized in two ways. Players purchasing PokeCoins, which are used to "buy" Pokeballs and other items needed for gameplay. In a stroke of creative genius, Niantic, the software creator, also charges fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses to be sponsored locations where both Pokemon characters and players gather in droves.

Yes, that's just about all there is to it. The game appeals to players base instincts to engage in a treasure hunt, or in this case a Pokemon hunt. The never-ending challenge of finding Pokemon in unexpected places drives players to obsession. And obsessed they are. The game boasts 21 million daily users in nearly 40 countries, and rakes in a whopping $10 million per day in revenue. And, as if anyone were keeping count, the game has been downloaded 500 million times.

Augmented Reality Before Pokemon

Augmented reality technology has been lurking in the shadows long before the first Pokeball was tossed. Several companies have invested heavily in the development of AR hardware and software. We'll look at a few that have helped define the market.

Microsoft Hololens

Microsoft has, perhaps, the best-known AR apparatus, the Microsoft Hololens. The Microsoft Hololens is powered by a self-contained Windows 10 computer, and creates holograms in the user's real space.

Magic Leap

Magic Leap represents a true innovation in AR technology. Rather than projecting an image onto a visor or incorporating it into a cell phone display, Magic Leap projects the image directly onto the wearer's retinas. Excuse me? With $540 million in funding — with some of it from Google, some say their technology represents the future of AR.

Samsung

The Samsung Gear VR was originally designed as a VR headset. Not to miss the AR train, Samsung has released an application known as Spectacle, which adds AR capability to the device. The headset uses the viewer's GALAXY smartphone for the display. The Samsung Gear VR comes with a host of technical wizardry to create a rich VR/AR experience.

Where VR gear has targeted largely gamers, AR device manufacturers have pursued more practical applications, as we shall discuss shortly.

Big Business Gets Real About Augmented Reality

The rise in AR popularity, and revenue, has not escaped the attention of mega companies and startups, alike. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook, and Snapchat are but a few of the big players who have invested in developing their own AR technology, AR startups, or both.

A surge of new companies has also quietly emerged on the scene. The AR gear they bring to the party promises to open new markets not tapped by their mammoth rivals.

When you consider that the company that developed Pokemon Go is now valued at more than $3 billion, it is easy to see why heads are turning.

Applications for Augmented Reality

The potential of AR technology to reward investors depends on how many markets it can infiltrate, and how deeply. All indications are, AR is poised to plow both wide and deep.

Healthcare

The applications for AR in healthcare are virtually endless, no pun intended. Specially designed hardware and software are already proving valuable in both medical training and in actual surgical procedures. By using their mobile devices, students can benefit from information and graphics supplied by the instructor, allowing a more interactive training experience.

Manufacturing

The manufacturing sector represents a huge opportunity for AR innovators. The head-up display capability of AR is proving valuable in inspection, logistics, building, operations and maintenance across a wide spectrum of manufacturing industries. Improvements in efficiency, quality, and safety make AR solutions highly attractive to manufacturing chiefs.

Marketing

Marketing may seem to be an unlikely benefactor of AR, but AR has a lot to offer the marketeer. Innovative products can allow potential customers to view furniture inside their home before making a purchase. Clothing and makeup can be tried before a dress leaves the rack or a tube of lipstick is opened. And automobile companies are experimenting with virtual showrooms, where a mix of AR and VR technology allows customers to view 3-D virtual models of automobiles on an empty showroom floor.

The Future is Now

Augmented reality has the power to touch every area of our lives. Helping us to do our jobs better, helping us make better informed purchase choices, and helping our doctors treat us are just a few of the ways AR will soon become a reality to each of us.

We can't give Pokemon Go all the credit for the benefits, and revenue, AR is sure to deliver. But the next time you see a gamer running across your back yard in search of a Pokemon, you might consider lifting your hat. Who knows, that may be where the Pokemon is hiding.

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