Pokémon Go: A New Dawn for Augmented Reality Apps

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There are things that go viral, and then there’s Pokémon Go. In a matter of weeks, it has become a cultural zeitgeist that looks to be a catalyst for the expansion of augmented reality.

It’s been estimated that the app now has more than 100 million worldwide users. By comparison, Candy Crush took one year and 3 months to attain the same figure.

Now the digestion of the aftermath begins. Why was this so unprecedentedly popular? Technology firms will now be more willing to invest in AR, marketers and millennial-leaning brands will start plotting of how they can take advantage of such a wonderful opportunity.

Everything about this story weaves into an overarching narrative that not many people outside this circle understand too much about the marketplace. For instance – after a steep spike in price – shares in Nintendo are beginning to fall in value as only now investors realise that Nintendo don’t actually make Pokémon Go.

Put simply, AR has been held back for some years by the concept that it required technology of its own to prove successful. Not true. The apps developers Niantic and its co-owners Alphabet Inc. (Google) & Nintendo realised that all they needed to do was tap into a device carried by more than 2 billion people around the world: the smartphone.

It works using Google Maps to guide the player around the real world to various locations: Pokestops where they can find useful items and set lures to catch more Pokémon; and Gyms, which work in a King of the Hill format used to train up the Pokémon that the player has caught. When catching a Pokémon, it overlays the real world captured through a camera phone with a virtual display of a Pokémon.

The commercial opportunities for the app are indescribable. Savvy businesses are already purchasing lures to entice nearby players to their premises. They then shower them with direct marketing and offers.

Elsewhere, opportunity knocks to sell ‘sponsored locations’ to advertisers, where certain perks will become available to players in a designated area, paid for by brands who want them there.

However, the app risks total collapse if it goes too far in this direction. Any marketing carried out on the platform will need be done so subtly. The two-thirds of players that are aged 18-24 are famously unreceptive to direct advertising and will not like the platforms initial drive being disturbed.

More than anything, the potential is more about what it means for the industry as a whole, rather than for Pokémon Go itself. Niantic has proved that, used the right way, augmented reality can be a thoroughly effective tool. Brands now need to be more open to investment into AR systems in order to fully engage its customers. An AR app could mean that customers can now literally visualise where a piece of furniture might go in their house; they might also be able to project a Tag Heuer watch onto their wrist to see which they prefer. In short, the technology should be harmonised with a brands physical presence in order to maximise its utility. Until then, we’ve gotta catch ‘em all.