It’s a solid bet that most people reading Texas CEO don’t make a lot of time for video games. Over the past few weeks, however, it’s been impossible to ignore one game in particular: Pokémon Go, which has already become a historic hit with mobile gamers and earned Nintendo billions. The game, which is available as a free download, recently surpassed Twitter in daily users on its way to becoming the biggest mobile app release in history. Citibank analysts predict that the game’s developer, Niantic, will earn $750 million in revenue this year from its digital creation.
That’s big business, to be sure. But what’s even more exciting is what Pokémon Go could mean for the future of businesses. Because as much fun as it may be to chase Charizards through a city park, this game appears to be only the tip of an iceberg that could dramatically change the way we live and work.
The game’s revolutionary mechanics and its gamification of the real world are also offering a glimpse at the next evolution of technology’s use in digital marketing. Augmented reality could soon become a primary way to capture customers as well as cute little monsters.
The gameplay breakthrough that has made Pokémon Go such a sensation involves superimposing cute, digital video game characters on to the real world, encouraging players to hop off the recliner and hit the streets, searching for these friendly monsters through the spyglass of a smartphone. While people are having a blast on this physical and digital scavenger hunt, though, they may very well be ushering in a new era of computing.
The technology used to make Pokémon characters appear in the real world on a phone screen is known as Augmented Reality, or AR. Though still in its infancy, relatively speaking, AR isn’t brand new, and many businesses already use it to enhance processes, workflows and training. It works by leveraging several different technologies, including GPS location, image recognition, and 3D content management to enhance users’ senses with digital instruments. Remember reading about the failed experiment that was Google Glass? Pokémon Go works pretty similarly. It’s just a lot more fun — and a lot more affordable!
And that’s the real genius of Pokémon Go. Augmented Reality has been utilized in glasses and other headset-style visual tools before, but never before has the technology been so widely accessible. Now that the world has seen it catch on in such a dramatic way, it’s a good bet games are only the beginning. Imagine a fireman holding an AR device that can superimpose potential structural weaknesses, temperature spike and exit routes over a burning building. Imagine a technician wearing a headset that can detect and highlight objects in his field of vision that are emitting higher-than-average levels of radiation. Or a soldier seeing detailed routing instructions on where to safely step in a minefield after dark. Combined with the nearly limitless sensing and reporting capabilities of the Internet of Things (IOT), the possibilities for Augmented Reality are massive.
Pokémon Go has only just scratched the surface of the commercial potential of technology. Now that it is proven to work in the smartphone/tablet market, the potential user base for AR has skyrocketed into the hundreds of millions. Analysts at Digi-Capital predict that AR could hit $120 billion in revenue by 2020, and the tech giants clearly want a piece; Apple, Google and Microsoft have all snapped up AR development companies recently, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Don’t be surprised, in the next five years, to see more recognizable brands launching AR applications designed to deliver to customers a more immersive and personalized shopping experience. Want to see how that couch might look in the living room before you buy? With AR, it’s possible!
While it’s tempting to get carried away with the possibilities, the AR revolution will not come without drawbacks. Security and privacy present very real concerns. Initially, Pokémon Go allowed Niantic to access everything uploaded to a users’ Google account. While this has since changed, it highlights the need for privacy protections. If AR can be used to monitor sensitive information such as heart conditions or medical histories, that data can potentially be hacked and held for ransom by cyber criminals. These new tools will require new safeguards before they can truly become a part of our daily lives.
Even still, Pokémon Go appears to be the dawn of exciting times in computing and technology. It’s the best, most successful example yet of how digital technology and physical objects might be able to coexist and even interact through mobile devices. Pokémon seemed to have been exactly what was needed to bring a new technology to the masses, and in a very user-friendly way. In a few years, it may well seem hopelessly antiquated as applications improve and we seamlessly integrate digital data into the user’s real world. Consumers are already becoming more comfortable with AR than most experts ever predicted. Could it become the next global communications medium?
Stephen Wright is the President & CEO of Houston-based Wright Business Technologies.
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