Augmented reality—the ability to witness an altered version of our world via a smartphone display, goofy glasses, or through a camera—is not new. Thanks to Pokémon Go, though, people might actually start to care about it.
Early AR has taken many forms. It was a terrible HUD on the Pontiac Grand Prix and Aztek, for example. Pokémon Go-like use cases have been available on phones for eons. Even the military has been employing AR for over a decade—most recently built into the helmets F-35 pilots use.
None of those experiences can compare to what just happened. Pokémon Go has consumed the public’s consciousness and, in a single weekend, thrown augmented reality into the mainstream. It’s fun and so people actually use it, and that’s critical because augmented reality is suddenly something the whole world can experience in an accessible and enjoyable way. The great struggle of augmented reality has really been in public acceptance. As cool as the multitude of experiences out there so far have been, most people just haven’t cared. Remember the Yelp iPhone app’s “secret” Monocle filter some seven years ago? It was cool, but ultimately not slick or useful enough for anybody to actually use it for more than just a few minutes.
More recently, augmented reality has seemed on the precipice of a huge jump forward. On the advanced side of things, Google’s space-aware Project Tango phone, Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, and Magic Leap’s mysterious “mixed reality” tech each seem poised to make every nerd’s Holodeck dreams come true. On the mobile side of things more accessible to the rest of us, Snapchat filters have quickly become popular, and their neat trick has served as an introduction to what a mixed view of the real and digital world can look like for millions of people. You can go to the Lincoln Memorial and turn the thirteenth president into a puppy or make him puke rainbows. It rules.
Pokémon Go is still just a taste of what AR is capable of—its usefulness is in the deficiencies it highlights, because Pokémon Go isn’t actually good AR but is has given the public a frame of reference. A benchmark with which we can now compare all other forms of augmented reality. Like HoloLens or Project Tango. In the case of the latter, Tango has spent the last couple of years struggling to explain to consumers precisely why it’s one of the coolest advances in phone tech in a while.
Better and improved interactions with your Pokémon? Hololens, Project Tango, Intel’s RealSense camera, and many other technologies are extraordinary tools of augmented reality that have struggled to explain their coolness. But some Jigglypuffs and Pickachus just gave us a way to understand the possibilities. Who could have guessed a dorky game for kids would one day be a watershed technology