Pokémon GO the Future of Augmented Reality?

The phenomenon that the Pokémon GO application has created is amazing; the game is clearly addictive across user-types and it is even forcing normally sedentary gamers out into the real world to move and interact with other humans face-to-face.

Author’s Note: I am an active Pokémon GO player myself (and openly admit my addiction). As I write this post there is a wide-spread network problem and many players, myself included, are unable to login — which is making my work go much faster. Go Team Red.

The claim of Pokémon GO as the first huge step into mass adoption of augmented reality (AR) gaming… we are not so convinced for several reasons, until we consider some interesting ideas.

Batteries and Bandwidth (Again)

Network problems plague Pokémon GO even with a WiFi connection
Network problems plague Pokémon GO even with a WiFi connection
Image Credit: Michael Kaufman

It has been said before in the pages of the Architechnologist that there are two major barriers holding back new technology: batteries and bandwidth (Our Current Bandwidth Bust and the Coming Boom, The Architechnologist, June 17, 2015, ). Pokémon GO is very much a victim of these two limitations.

Niantic, the developer of the Pokémon GO application, should have known better; they have experience with creating another successful real-world interaction game called Ingress. It plays much like GO’s gym ownership portion and that game had its own problems with network traffic…

Of course, constantly (attempting to) download new data through an overloaded network on overworked servers is going to tax any device’s battery… the second barrier. The limitations of the battery directly affect the viability of Pokémon GO because it can become simply unplayable without an outside power source.

“Augmented Reality”–ish

Since Pokémon GO was first announced in September 2015, it claimed an augmented reality component and many expected a tremendous leap forward for AR. That’s not what we got… the only augmented reality is in Pokémon GO’s first-person Poké Ball throwing scenes. Even Snapchat Lenses (aka “Face Effects”) are more augmented reality than the simple layover of a barely animated cartoon that we see in Pokémon GO as they dynamically change the existing image.

Pokémon GO with augmented reality
Pokémon GO with augmented reality
Image Credit: The Pokémon Company

Unless… What if we consider expanding the concept of AR to include anything that encourages interaction with the world around us? Then the game does make a huge stride into a new space using the technology: encouraging users to move about and explore the “real world” and (hopefully) interact with it and other people, building on the lessons learned from Niantic’s Ingress game. That newly expanded understanding of AR embraces the idea of an “enhanced environment” that is open to different experiences for each individual in their own situation at any given time.

What about the “Pokémon GO Plus”?

Pokémon GO Plus accessory
Pokémon GO Plus accessory
Image Credit: The Pokémon Company

Announced last summer, the Pokémon GO Plus is a bracelet companion device for the mobile application that allows users to capture to make it easy to capture Pokémon and gain items at PokeStops without looking at their device’s screen.

The accessory does not necessarily add anything to the augmented reality aspect of the game, but it does make one important contribution: beginning to explore the possibilities of AR without the screen. That contribution opens up the aforementioned idea of the “enhanced environment” even more, as it is no longer completely dependent on visual cues.

So, Is GO or Isn’t It?

Yes, Pokémon GO definitely includes a small amount of what we currently call “augmented reality” in its first-person Poké Ball throwing scenes. If we consider expanding the concept of AR to include anything that supplements the reality around us, then the game does make a huge stride into a new space using the technology. Encouraging users to move about and interact with both the “real world” and the virtual one and interact with others who may or may not be seeing both — that is a kind of Augmented Reality that could launch a public acceptance of the technology and one that could improve the life of the user in a real, tangible way.

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