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Beyond the hype: how Pokémon GO paves the way for our AR-infused future

Richard Tso

July 20, 2016

To say the launch of Pokémon GO was a major success would be one of the biggest understatements of the year. In just a matter of days the popular game reached the top of both the iOS and Android app stores, surpassed both Twitter and Tinder in active daily users and is being played an average of 43 minutes per day. Boeing even had to ban the app since employees were using it so much at work.

Oftentimes, video games signal the beginning of wider consumer adoption since they help people envision what is possible through technology. And once these technologies are introduced to younger generations, people begin to demand them in future offerings. Cutting-edge advancements in graphics processing and motion sensing are a natural fit for gaming consoles that require immersive first-player environments. Games also became more social through online services like Playstation 3 and Xbox Live that allowed for teams of people to meet up online for competitive gameplay with integrated chat features.

The Pokémon GO app is a good example of AR Lite, a technology that requires only camera access on mobile devices and overlays a digital layer on top of a viewfinder. This technology is actually about 7 years old as reported by VentureBeat. You may remember the novelty of Yelp Monocleintroduced back in 2009 that allowed people to see the reviews of businesses around them as a visual information layer through the phone’s camera. The tech never really took off but it was really cool to use at the time and just scratched the surface of where AR will head in the near future.

Within a week, augmented reality (AR) has finally gone mainstream and the popularity of Pokémon GO has breathed new life into discussions about the technology’s potential ― and it’s not all about games.

As I’ve written about previously, many trends in the consumer world eventually find a home in the enterprise just like the rise of the quantified-self for workplace analytics. When it comes to work environments, office-life needs to be entirely re-envisioned for the integrated digital age. Imagine a workplace where contextual information is presented to executives throughout their day, subtly and organically to provide data about the meetings they attend and people they interact with. Some of the personal dashboard features provided in MyAnalytics are a stepping-stone for making this dream an integrated reality.

In the not too distant future, I believe workstations will no longer tie people to desks and computer screens – they will be virtual, cloud-based and travel with employees as they navigate offices, campuses and physical spaces. Reliance on hardware will diminish since the cloud will drive form factors smaller and smaller. Successful workplace technologies of the future will also promote physical activity to help inspire creative thought and allow people reclaim their humanness.

Pokémon GO has done a great job by integrating features to physically activate people and inspire them to explore the real world outside their front doors. In a society that had become more and more sedentary, the game reminds us to maybe rethink that extra french fry and instead try to make it to the actual gym instead of just the virtual one. But that’s only if we learn from technology and change our behaviors as a result. (I watched WALL-E again over the weekend and see it as a cautionary tale about how humans need to be mindful about the technologies they adopt, lest we become amorphous blobs with bones that no longer connect).

Visually integrated technologies hold tremendous promise for both work and play to provide people with relevant contextual information about the real world in front of them. Imagine sitting in a music hall and being able to hear the symphony crescendo in coordination with a visual overlay of the musical score and details about the musicians. Imagine being able to hold an important business meeting with your colleagues, together on a beach in Bali through the power of virtual reality, or transporting yourself to a calming rainforest to help unlock your creativity and focus time at work.

Google Glass, Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens and yes, even Pokémon GO are making significant strides towards this new, augmented, and digitally-infused reality.

Portrait of Richard Tso

Richard Tso

Richard L. Tso is the managing editor of Microsoft Workplace Insights at Microsoft. Integrated in a team of data scientists, he is responsible for unearthing compelling stories about data, organizational behavior, employee engagement and business performance. He is a regular contributing writer for the Huffington Post, WIRED magazine and Medium.