by Prasanthi Nair
September 2nd, 2016

This past month has seen hundreds of people wandering along pavements and playgrounds, absent-mindedly catching “pocket monsters”, more fondly known as Pokémon.

While early adopters of Pokémon Go were drawn by the nostalgia of the Pokémon franchise, it is the game’s stealth social dimension that has fueled its seemingly sudden success.

As with all matters of the heart, Singaporeans take their casual gaming very seriously. Shortly after Pokémania hit Singapore in early August, players rallied across social media and their neighbourhood streets to chat and interact with other Pokémon trainers. A sight as rare as a Gyarados, Singaporeans, young and old, huddled together at Pokéstops, sparking a new wave of community bonding.

This is where Pokémon Go succeeds and where other games have failed. Modern technology not only influences leisure behavior, it impacts the way we interact with one another.   

Which comes first – hardware or software?

Enter augmented reality (AR).

AR bridges our physical world with the digital. This allows users to connect with their immediate surroundings in real time, while being simultaneously immersed in the mobile realm. Pokémon Go may seem like a simple mobile game on the surface, but it is actually the brainchild of several data analytics technologies, including GPS-linked 3D aerial maps, which provide an AR view of the world.

Until now, it had seemed as if the commercial success of AR would require a post-mobile hardware platform. However, the mass adoption of the Pokémon Go app suggests that AR can be successful on devices that people are already using.

Unlike its cousin, virtual reality (VR), which requires expensive headsets to experience, AR easily breaks through to the mainstream audiences. All you need is a smartphone, equipped with the right software. VR, on the other hand, is antithetical to real life and requires users to be completely detached from the surrounding physical world.

While mobile innovation is moving from hardware to software, real impact is made when both co-evolve in the same ecosystem. For example, wearable technology and accessories help users stay on the move without constantly having their eyes glued to their pocket-sized screens. This proves that with the right design, even standalone peripheral devices can take the concept of immersive AR technology one step further – by allowing users to be more aware of their surroundings.

Digital realities: Gotta catch em’ all

Just as AR transforms our trusted smartphones into portals to alternate dimensions, communicators can use AR to turn other everyday moments into engagement opportunities. While AR is a valuable communication tool, the future of digital realities should not be just limited to what else can be mapped onto the real world. Rather the focus should be on the creative delivery of digital content, and the design of compelling, immersive customer experiences that maximize consumer engagement.

Mobile apps might have been playfully guiding the next generation along the path to augmented reality, but it is more that than just fun and games. Fad or not, the technology behind Pokémon Go is here to stay. With 9 out of 10 Singaporeans having access to smartphones and the advent of 5G networks on the horizon, this is  just the beginning of a brave new augmented world.

This article is the second of a 2-part series on new computer technologies. Read the first piece about virtual reality (VR), here on our Weber Shandwick blog.

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