What can Pokémon GO do for AR adoption?

Unless you’ve been on the moon recently, chances are you’ve heard or read something about Pokémon GO. Whether it’s been from news reports, social posts or gossip in the workplace, most people know someone who’s played — or is still playing — the game. This phenomenon is the clever mashup of easily one of the most famous games in the history of digital gaming; Pokémon, and the blossoming technology of augmented reality.

If you’re reading this there is a good chance you already know what augmented reality is, or AR as it is better known. You’ve watched the Gadget Show, you use the internet, you may have even used AR on a movie poster, a can of Coke or something very similar.

Augmented reality can be a very effective way for brands to engage with an audience. However, if this is the case, why is AR still a relatively obscure technology and not being embraced by the masses; and why is Pokémon GO going to help break this barrier?

For those who aren’t quite sure what augmented reality is, let’s take a step back and first discuss the big digital elephant in the room.

So, what is augmented reality?

Well, if you do a quick search on Google for “Augmented Reality” you will get the following definition…

…a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

That means what exactly?

Augmented reality is a live direct view of a real-world environment through a mobile device, with elements that are augmented (or supplemented) onto this environment. This can be anything from sounds and music, to videos, game graphics and the inclusion of GPS data, or a combination of all in the case of Pokémon GO.

As the processing power of smart-devices continues to get faster, it’s becoming even easier to enjoy and marvel at the world through an AR perspective. Big brands like Coca Cola and Pepsi have been using AR interactivity with their bottles and cans to promote everything from the latest sporting event to specific playlists on Spotify. High Street giants like Argos, Selfridges and Topshop have also dabbled in the world of augmented reality. However, like so many of these attempts at utilising AR technology, they have all flown a little low under the radar.

So how is Pokémon GO going to help the augmented reality cause?

The game itself is relatively straightforward in concept. You are a Pokémon trainer and the objective is to locate, capture, battle and train Pokémon with the aid of your Poké Ball. That’s the spherical red and white thing at the bottom of the screen.

Here’s the really cool bit…

Using your GPS data through the Pokémon GO app, you can actually track down Pokémon that are near you, or you can go out in hunting parties with friends. That means getting up and walking around outside…not sitting behind a computer of sat staring at your phone. Once you have found the location of a Pokémon it will appear within your real-world environment (this is the groovy augmented reality bit), through the Pokémon GO app. You can then interact with the AR Pokémon, choosing whether to train, battle or capture it.

Now, mainstream adoption of AR has been fairly slow of late. We have seen a couple of shooting stars, but most fizzle before they have really gained any traction. So why has it taken so long for augmented reality to break into mainstream — if it’s really that good?

Fear of the unknown
Just like that time, not so long ago, when people started mumbling about this thing called the internet and how anybody who had a business should have a website. Many people were thinking ‘why should we spend money on a website when there’s the Yellow Pages?’ Have you seen the size of the Yellow Pages lately? It looks more like a monthly magazine. It was a few years before companies realised just how important a web presence is if they wanted to be found by potential clients and customers.

Cost of the unknown
So the world has embraced the internet and we all know that it wasn’t a passing fad and it is here to stay. Brands now know the benefits of having a great looking website. Then, some smart-arse comes along and tells them it has to be mobile friendly because most people are now viewing the internet via those pesky mobile phones.
For a long time this was ignored and mobile internet users had to put up with clunky websites that were not designed or built to be viewed on phones or tablets. It took a rather stern warning from the headmaster (Google) for people to pay attention. Websites would need to be mobile friendly or they would suffer in search engine placement. So, money was spent where needed to get websites up to scratch and made accessible for any device; mobile or desktop.

Popularity and usage dictates investment. Whether it’s finally making the leap away from the yellow pages or investing in making your current website mobile friendly, if usage demands an action and budget allows, it would be foolhardy for companies not to accommodate this evolution — or they run the risk of being left in the digital wilderness.

The bottom line is that the digital world is constantly changing. Look how far we have come in such a short space of time. We, as customers, are coming to expect more interaction with our mobile devices. Whether it’s simply using our fingerprint to access our own phones, scanning a QR Code for product instructions or using the face-mapping themes of Snapchat; interactivity and engagement is fast becoming that element that separates the men from the boys.

This is where Pokémon GO managed to sneak augmented reality in the backdoor.

Without even realising it, millions…yes that’s right, millions… of people have been wandering the streets hunting down Pikachu and friends with the aid of augmented reality; subconsciously becoming comfortable with the idea of third party content appearing over the top of a real world view.

With locations now being able to request a PokéStop or a Pokémon Gym at a certain address, it would be naive for marketers not to notice the potential for augmented reality and location based marketing. Obviously, it won’t be for everyone and there’ll be plenty of companies trying to cash in on all the Pokémon hoopla, but after the dust has settled people will be using augmented reality without thinking twice about it.

From a marketing perspective it will be up to the individual brand to stay relevant and decide what best suits their needs. However, if a company does decide to jump aboard the AR train, its focus must be to improve the audience’s experience of their brand, not AR for the sake of AR. The objective should be to build a relationship that is both mutually beneficial to the customer and the brand. Augmented reality has been sat on the sidelines patiently waiting for its day in the sun; to brush it off as fad or just a “kids thing” would be a big mistake. Pokémon GO has shown what can be achieved with some GPS data and a little AR pixie dust. Tweak this into a business model with a marketing objective and you could create something truly awesome.

Could it be this “kids” game that finally breaks augmented reality into the mainstream?