If you are wondering if Augmented Reality has stolen a march on its much hyped, but slow-moving virtual cousin you are not alone.
I’ve been sipping on the VR coolade for some time now – and I’ve amassed an impressive, if cumbersome collection of headsets ranging from Google cardboard clones to the tethered grunt of an Oculus DK2. I even fell victim to Sumsung’s bundling strategy to get VR headsets into the hands of the general public. I bought an S7 to get the Gear – only to find that I couldn’t select my headset from the hundreds of boxes in front of me but had to wait 4-6 weeks for another box to come from someplace else.
Hmmm, so much for instant engagement.
In a land far, far closer than the next Oculus release, Pokemon Go has thrown augmented reality into the public domain in a way that must make the VR hardware makers sob quietly in the dark privacy of their headsets.
AR is now in the hands of a reported 26 million daily players, using existing hardware and a free app. It offers a rich, genuine stand-alone experience to users, rather than the often “light” Virtual experiences, and has the additional virtue of making money now, generating an estimated $ 1 million each day in in-app revenue.
Niantic, like its Pokemon creatures, has evolved from an Alphabet creation with $24 million venture funding into a far larger and more powerful creature. Last week, just three weeks after the Pokemon Go launch, Citibank valued Niantic at $3.65 billion. That’s a unicorn of truly epic proportions.
But while Nintendo was punished by the markets for the ludicrous crime of not having the idea all by themselves (share prices dropped 18% as soon as Nintendo explained Niantic’s involvement), it would be a mistake to underestimate the role that the Pokemon brand has played in propelling augmented reality into the popular psyche.
Consider this – Niantic has been running Ingress on the same AR platform that carries Pokemon Go since 2013. Make no mistake – Ingress is a force in its own right. Ingress has been downloaded 11 million times in its two-year lifespan and has a reported 1 million daily players. In itself, this is a massive take-up of a single game on a new platform. In fact, it’s about the same as the number of monthly users claimed by Samsung (via Oculus) back in May this year.
Now, add the brand power and global supporter base of Pokemon. In the first three weeks of its general launch, and bearing in mind that Pokemon staggered its launch to release in Japan after these numbers were released, Pokemon Go numbers was claiming 20-30 million downloads in a fortnight just in the U.S and an estimated 26 million daily users globally.
We love to make technology the hero – framing the technology as breathing new life into an old brand, but Pokemon Go is a great example of the sort of synergy that happens when a brand of such strength that it is capable of lifting a new technology into the mainstream meets a genuinely game-changing technology.
Pokémon Go has sufficient momentum to profoundly change the AR/VR landscape – and to bring about the inevitable convergence of augmented and virtual reality. If brands provide the velocity for this type of experience, then brands have the opportunity to play a significant part in shaping the landscape.
The question is, what happens next?