Jul 26th 2017

Pokémon Go turns one – what’s next for augmented reality?

This time a year ago, millions of people had turned into walking, phone-watching zombies. Night of the Living Dead it was not – instead Pokémon Go was at the peak of its popularity, with approximately 380 million active users worldwide. ‘Gotta catch ‘em all’ was the objective of people everywhere you looked, with users roaming the streets with their eyes glued to their phones, trying to bag a Bulbasaur and get a peek of Pikachu.

Was it worth the hysteria? In my opinion, I found the game riddled with flaws – it was often slow, full of bugs and glitches, and had an amazing ability to decimate mobile phone battery life. Did I ever buy into it? Nah…

…well, maybe for a few days.

OK, admittedly the game was addictive and encouraged both a social and competitive connection between users. It’s easy to appreciate how unique it was on launch. Crucially, it introduced augmented reality (AR) to mainstream gaming, a technological concept that delivers a digital, holographic layer over the real world. Whilst AR had certainly been done before, this instance differed as the game encouraged people to go out and explore the real world through a looking glass that could transform familiar places – your home, street, office – into a new world filled with Pokémon.

So, with a year on from the launch of Pokémon Go, how has AR developed?

Certainly the popularity of Pokémon Go has waned. I no longer have any friends playing it; and I don’t see anyone wandering around the streets, like headless chickens, playing it. However, usage stats tell a slightly different story, suggesting the game is far from dead. In April, Niantic, the company that made Pokémon Go, announced that 65 million people were playing the game each month, with 20% of them playing the game every day. Whilst these numbers are drastically lower than what the game achieved during its peak, there is clearly still a huge demand for it – anything over 50 million users is no small feat.

We are yet to see another company that has been able to replicate the success of Pokémon Go, and leverage augmented reality to develop a truly unique experience for consumers.

Virtual reality on the other hand, a comparable technology, has seen a rise in consumer awareness and popularity in the gaming world. It is different to AR in that it enables users to be transported to a completely fabricated reality, which has almost no connection to the real world itself. HTC and Sony have both launched virtual reality headsets – HTC Vive and Sony PlayStation VR – the latter of which has sold over one million devices despite its hefty price tag of around £350.

Out of the two, augmented reality is projected to be the more successful, with AR revenue at $83.5 billion, which is $58 billion more than VR revenue. It is therefore not completely surprising that Microsoft has focused on augmented reality, with the launch of its smart glasses Hololens, as it believes that the technology offers a broader set of opportunities for the future.

Microsoft now claims that “mixed reality” is the next generational progression for AR. By delivering advanced holographic technology for human computer interaction, the innovation takes the best bits of both AR and VR. Microsoft is introducing advanced applications that go beyond gaming and entertainment, which it says will revolutionise business. For example, engineers could view live data and images whilst working, allowing greater accuracy, increased efficiency and improved productivity.

It is in the business world where augmented reality seems to have the most commercial potential. At MWC in 2016, Babel worked with Epson to launch the third generation of its augmented reality headset, the Moverio BT-300. The huge volume of media briefings and attendance at the launch event – from publications such as BBC, Forbes and CNET – demonstrated that the world was eager to learn more about AR’s applications in the business world. Epson was able to demonstrate how it could be used to enhance business across a range of industries, from tourism to automotive and retail.

With the likes of Intel, Microsoft and Acer hot on the heels of Epson’s innovations in this area, it will be interesting to see what unique use cases are developed for AR in the near future. In the meantime, we will have to wait patiently to see what the next ground-breaking consumer AR app or device is, that could potentially outlast the craze of Pokémon Go.


Paul Campbell
Paul Campbell ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR