A new beginning for Augmented Reality?

Four days after its debut on the market, Pokémon GO, the new video game for smartphone developed by Nintendo, has already surpassed the dating app Tinder in total number of downloads on Android devices in the US and is poised to pass the number of Twitter daily users. What is the reason for this incredible success? No doubt the fact that the game allows players to catch Pokémon exploring the real world, thanks to the so-called Augmented Reality, the mechanism by which fictional digital elements are added to the images of reality, displayed by the smartphone camera.

Basically, the app allows anyone to run into Pokémon specimens (among the most famous: Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Charmander etc) to try to capture them and earn points. The success of the app – which in just four days broke all records for download and use – is certainly due to the popularity and affection that Pokémon has achieved over the years (many of those who now play Pokémon GO are the same who watched them on TV as children) but mostly it is due to the idea of ​​intelligently leverage Augmented Reality to make it a mass market technology.

AR was born in the 90’s and strongly evolved with the advent of smartphones and tablets, going to be used in many fields: construction, advertising, mapping, tourism, education and videogames. But this is the first time it is used successfully in a video game made to be played in as many places as possible: we could define Pokémon GO as the Treasure hunt of the twenty-first century. The point, probably, is right here: Nintendo developers have found the key to make the AR easy, fun and understandable by most people using geolocation and the presence of world known and beloved characters. A captivating and successfull mix.

We must not forget, in fact, that until now the AR has basically missed the goal of becoming a widespread technology. The Google Glass had to become a new cult object but panned out (“Consumers were not ready“) and Microsoft Hololens struggles to find a future: this shows that even the most sophisticated innovations sometimes collide with the simple consumers’ logic. In this case the use of eyeglasses as AR headset has been a large and uncomfortable obstacle since the beginning, even for those who were very interested in this technology.

Pokémon GO’s breakout success could lead many players in the AR field to change their approach to this technology, favoring simple but eye-catching apps over expensive and complicated headsets for the benefit of ease-of-use. In short, the incredible Nintendo hit (some analysts calculated Pokémon Go can boost Nintendo profits by $10-20 million annually) could be a good news also for its competitors and, more generally, for the whole industry of AR. Expect to see many similar apps groped to replicate the success of Pokémon GO. Not all will succeed, but no doubt that this could be a turning point for Augmented Reality.