This morning, an acquaintance that I hold in very high esteem, asked me if I was playing Pokémon Go. For the uninitiated, this is the new interactive game from Nintendo that uses Augmented Reality to enable players to catch cartoon figures, except in the real world. If you’ve seen people staring at the screens of their phones as they walk along the street, or if you’ve spotted strange groups huddling around similar spots in parks, this is likely what they are looking at —

pokemon

Augmented reality (AR), enables users to interact with artificial stimuli, but using the real world as a reference point. Players of Pokémon Go, are literally hunting down characters, who they then interact with in the real world. We have spoken before about the importance of augmented reality, but this is the first time we’ve seen it applied on such a grand scale, and the potential implication for businesses could be significant. While it’s unlikely that the Pokémon game will last long term –  no offence to any players, but it is a first generation technology, and the odds are historically stacked against it – augmented reality however, is here to stay.

Much like various social media platforms that businesses are still trying to monetise, such as Snapchat, augmented reality presents both a plethora of opportunity, and frustration in trying to ascertain exactly how to engage with the target audience. The hesitation for anyone leaping on the AR bandwagon, is that nobody really knows in which direction the technology will go, or who will be controlling the platform when it does. There is perhaps an opportunity for a new form of virtual real estate – businesses could sell the walls and floors of buildings, which could then be used for advertising.

There is also a real opportunity for extraordinary new levels of corporate engagement through virtual content. For example, businesses could leave virtual ambassadors in trains, planes or anywhere else business people unknown to congregate. CEOs and senior executives, usually difficult to get in front of could be offered powerful, and tailor-made offers, delivered through the screen of their phone, by someone who is essentially standing in front of them.

Irrespective of how the technology evolves, there will inevitably be a significant social media component, which will lead to a trace of irony. For so long with been told that we stare at the screen of our phone too much, and should be looking at other people instead. With augmented reality, we’ll be staring at the screen of our phone, and into each other’s eyes, meeting new people and expanding our horizons. The next step of course, is augmented reality glasses that create a complete augmented world, filled with different characters and even virtual clothing and accessories. Most interesting could be retail stores, who will likely keep their exteriors plain, in order to engage at a virtual level as augmented reality becomes a mainstream product. It will be a strange world for anyone outside of AR, with plain white shops, people wearing white suits so as not to taint their virtual clothing, and everyone yelling at their virtual dogs. It’s difficult to say whether we’ll look back on Pokémon Go, and laugh at it shortcomings, or reminisce of a more innocent age.