Earlier this month, Pokémon Go celebrated its one-year anniversary with a special in-app event that includes new features, rare limited-edition Pokémon, and other exclusive offers.
The buzz around the gaming app is far from the fever pitch that took place last summer, when city sidewalks were crammed with distracted pedestrians and Pokémon Go players were seeing the world through the lens of their gaming application. According to CNN Money, the app increased Nintendo’s market value by $23 billion in a span of less than two weeks. Companies specializing in augmented reality were rejoicing: They believed the success of Pokémon GO was the breakthrough the technology needed to move from niche to the mainstream.
While the game’s popularity has cooled off since then, it remains one of the most successful apps out there. It was the quickest mobile gaming app to reach $1 billion in in-app revenues. Despite a steady decline in users, the app still claimed more than 60 million active users in June, according to Business Insider.
When it first rose to success, many expected Pokémon Go to launch a wave of AR investment and creation. Companies were eager to create their own captivating AR solution, cashing in on the clear market opportunity blown wide open by Nintendo’s gaming app.
While some brands have certainly made savvy, successful investments in AR, the promised wave of development innovation hasn’t exactly landed on the shore. At first glance, it would seem that Pokémon GO was just a passing fad that managed to bottle lightning and create a marketing phenomenon. Reality isn’t quite so fantastical: While the scale of Pokémon Go’s success is all but untouchable, there are plenty of signs that it is still making an impact on AR development.
Image attribution: edowoo
Investment Hasn’t Waned
AR apps and experiences may not have saturated the consumer market, but many are in the works. According to a report from Venture Beat, companies offering AR development platforms continue to see heavy investment and participation from a range of companies and developers.
One of those AR platforms, Vuforia, has already launched more than 30,000 apps, and more than 250,000 developers have registered to build AR apps on the platform.
Despite the intrigue surrounding virtual reality, which promises an even more immersive experience than what AR offers, its projected market in the next few years is only one-third of the market potential of augmented reality. This is likely the result of a few different factors, including the high cost of VR hardware, the similarly high cost of VR experience development—instead of augmenting an existing world, you are creating an entirely new one—and, in some cases, the fact that AR might be more applicable to certain branded marketing goals.
Consider how AR could be used to highlight sale items on the shelves of a brick-and-mortar store, helping consumers quickly identify the best bargains. Similarly, AR could help shoppers find items they are looking for, including where they parked their car. For retailers and other companies looking to enhance their physical experience, AR is a more natural fit because it adds value to an existing asset or experience.
When these factors are considered, it’s obvious why brands would bet big on augmented reality, and why they’re so hopeful that the marketing technology takes off with consumers. But as Pokémon Go demonstrated, consumer reluctance may not be what is holding AR back from taking over the mainstream.
Waiting for Better Hardware
If you’re looking for the biggest hurdle that AR has yet to clear, this is it: The hardware for true, immersive AR experiences just isn’t where it needs to be for brands to seize the technology’s opportunity.
While Pokémon Go offered something that looked a lot like AR, it didn’t fully deliver an augmented experience. To do that, you need hardware that can see the world and create images and experiences that change how the consumer views that world. Unfortunately, the costs of this type of hardware remain too high for the average consumer. Microsoft offers an AR headset that costs $3,000. Google Glass, which was recently brought back from the dead, is reported to cost around $1,500.
These technologies aren’t just way too expensive: They’re also awkward to wear and use, which detracts from the experience. Pokémon Go’s experience was entirely contained within a user’s smartphone, which made it more convenient to use. As AdAge points out, true AR won’t become a mainstream marketing technology until low-cost AR glasses hit the market. While many different solutions are out there, none of them have been brought down to a price point that can spur on mainstream adoption.
Image attribution: alberth2
To truly realize the promise that AR offers, developers will have to wait until the technology can support their vision and their goals. Pokémon Go was a simple gaming device that featured many of the traits of augmented reality, but all it really did was overlay an experience on top of the physical world, instead of creating an experience that actually augments that world. While Pokémon Go set the potential ceiling for AR’s appeal, it lacked the nuts and bolts that would characterize a true AR experience.
In that sense, Pokémon Go was a bit of a false start: It was used to hail the arrival of AR into the mainstream, except it didn’t actually provide an AR experience. Nintendo surely doesn’t care: Its fans love the game, and the app itself has been a gold mine for the company. We learned a lot about the potential appeal of AR, but in terms of delivering genuine AR experiences and ushering in a new generation of consumer experiences, Pokémon Go was a bit ahead of its time.
But that’s great news for brands investing in AR: Instead of a passing trend, AR is most likely an innovative technology whose time in the spotlight has yet to come.