Pokemon Go Just Gave AR Its Watershed Moment

“Stop the Car!”

A casual drive down a leafy road in rural Lincoln, RI, was brutally interrupted by my wife’s plea. “There should be a cemetery over on the left. Just pull over right there and wait in the car while I investigate.” I didn’t know whether she was ghost hunting, trying to solve the murder mystery from last night’s evening news, or seeking out the gravestone of a long lost relative. Turns out it was none of those…she was picking up more Poke balls.


As I watched her dash out of sight, a couple neighborhood kids appeared where she disappeared. After an enthusiastic high-five, the pair checked their phones again and took off jogging down the street. When Michelle returned to the car, I asked what the kids were doing in the cemetery. She asked them the same thing, and they replied, “gotta catch’em all!”

How could the newly-released Pokemon Go have motivated such an unlikely smattering of people to seek out a random cemetery on a rural road…just to earn progress in a mobile app? My humor turned to wonder as I crossed paths, while walking the dogs, with groups of people playing the game: collecting Pokeballs, capturing dozens of Pokemon, and eventually battling each other in PokeGyms. Around 9pm last night, I was walking down a trail with Michelle when a fit 30-something man dashed out of MetroRock, a nearby climbing gym, screaming, “have you seen Krabby? I know he’s around here somewhere!” This is not simply a cute children’s game; people of all ages are getting in on the action.

Behavior Modification

For the uninitiated, Pokemon Go is a free-to-play augmented reality (AR) game for iOS and Android that allows players to capture, battle, train, and trade virtual Pokemon that appear throughout the real world. Using a smartphone camera, players scan the real world and happen upon hundreds of little creatures, some of which are common and others that are incredibly rare. Water-related Pokemon can be found near streams, rivers, and oceans, and Pokemon bird-like creatures can be found near parks. The most fascinating element of Pokemon Go gameplay is its ability to truly change real-world behavior en masse. This has been one of the ultimate, but until now unrealized, aims of AR. To-date, AR projects have been limited in scope, and many of their most effective applications resided in industry. With the debut of Pokemon Go, hundreds of millions of people around the world are having fun with an easy-to-learn, engaging example of AR.

The app is helping people rediscover abandoned elements of their community…

…and bringing people together

…and aiding people with mental illness

…and motivating people to exercise

…and making investors in Nintendo some lettuce

…and perking up the ears of every digital marketer worth their salt.

This Should Have Been Foursquare

Remember SoLoMo (Social, Location, Mobile)? Foursquare Loopt, Whrrl, and SCVNGR all took shots at helping users better interact with the world around them. Checking in, taking photos, earning free appetizers and badges, and doing challenges never hit the mainstream until this weekend. Remember Foursquare Super Swarms? Foursquare’s badges and check-in specials have now given way to placing lures in your business to drive customer traffic. Assuming Niantic builds out venue tools, expect engagement to rise in places you go everyday.

What’s Next?

Pokemon Go’s success will open the eyes and unlock the brains of talented developers everywhere, and I anticipate a number of AR applications debuting to gamify the world and alter human behavior. Who will come up with the next big AR application? Supplement my ideas below with your own in the comments!

  • Running with Google Glass and seeing a ghost ahead marking your personal best
  • Restaurants using AR to highlight secret menu items
  • Department stores providing a customized visitor experience by visually highlighting sales and new items or making recommendations on what to buy around the store for a camping trip or birthday party
  • AR showing customers how popular each item in a store has been in the last week, month, and year with a “heat score.” I could also see reviews popping up over items as well.
  • Zoo and museum curators building interactive exhibits in AR to amaze and educate visitors about animals and topics that would be too expensive or inconvenient to physically bring in-house
  • Being able to automatically identify people and their education/work history in a networking room
Pokemon Go Just Gave AR Its Watershed Moment

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