Pokemon Go Highlights Shifts In Augmented Reality

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, July 26, 2016

The Pokémon Go app is perhaps, as many breathless commentators have noted, a key breakthrough in consumer awareness and adoption of an augmented reality (AR) use. Since its launch, the app has 7+ million downloads with “60% … using it daily,” says SimilarWeb.com. A “killer app,” as they say. Or really, a killer application of a killer app!

Pokémon Go is compelling because of its functionality and consumer experience. As simplistic as the app may be, it’s a great example of how to get “inside the head” of customers, to truly understand motivations that drive behavior, and, ultimately, the selection of products and services. From my vantage point, this app has given Nintendo the ability to take advantage of technology in a way that seamlessly integrates with consumers’ lives. Customer experience is evolving, becoming, essentially, user experience.

So, with the likes of Pokémon Go, we continue to see an expanded template of digitally driven experiences, including both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The biggest distinction between the two lies in the degree of maturity. For example most observers believe that while VR is grabbing all the headlines now for what it could do, AR is viewed as more ready for prime time. And Pokémon Go represents the moment when AR finally “clicked” for many marketers.

Dangers, Pitfalls and What to Do

While Pokémon Go is giving users an interactive experience in their daily lives, my fear is that AR and VR will follow the well-worn destructive habits found in display and in-app advertising. These changes would be facilitated by ad serving platforms (similar to what we’ve see historically for display, native advertising and in-app ads) as the pressure for monetization increases. In turn, users will figure out how to avoid these ads just as they’ve done on other platforms and channels. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, but in the accelerating technology space we have to remember consumers have a finite amount of time available. So their migration to AR and VR will come at the expense of some other channel. There’s a reason Facebook acquired Oculus, after all. This “splinternet” of technology presents more challenges to brands and retailers looking to leverage this technology, but represents a broader and deeper reach into overall user experience.


While AR and VR are somewhat new to consumers, the adoption of these technologies is growing rapidly. Of course, that means marketers’ adoption of these technologies is growing as well. I hope marketers avoid making the same mistakes with AR and VR as they did with display advertising, and drive users away. If that happens, we may never realize the true potential of these technologies. 

Overall, apps like Pokémon Go are pushing the boundaries of emerging technology. They deliver upon user preferences including mobility and heightened engagement that doesn’t feel forced. Tapping into AR and VR technologies will allow for new opportunities to connect with users in a way that feels increasingly natural and converts more users into consumers. Pokémon Go is just the beginning; but I hope it’s not the beginning of the end.

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