Pokémon Go just redeemed Google Glass’ failure to launch augmented reality

A silly game is effortlessly doing what Google Glass couldn’t: make AR fun and interesting

Pokémon Go just redeemed Google Glass’ failure to launch augmented reality
Credit: Eduardo Woo

Google Glass was supposed to be a device that made augmented reality (AR) into a viable, useful, popular technology. But we all know how that turned out: Instead of inspiring people to see the world in new ways, Google Glass convinced everyone that AR was a useless, awkward, socially invasive technology of interest to only so-called “glass-holes.”

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Instead, a silly smartphone game for kids is doing what Google Glass failed so miserably at: making AR fun and involving, if not exactly useful.

Why Google Glass didn’t make AR a hit

As we all know, a fatal combination of apathy and social anxiety over covert filming forced Google to cancel its ambitious Glass “Pioneers” program aimed at making the technology popular among consumers. Instead, the company searched for industrial uses of the technology, where the social stigma and stink of failure wouldn’t be as much of a problem.

Despite the fact that companies like Boeing now use Google Glass for things like viewing complex wire harnesses, while other companies are looking at applications in healthcare, manufacturing and energy, Glass has fallen so far off the cultural radar that it might well never have been introduced. Even the poor souls who bought a pair before the social backlash set in are rarely seen in public wearing the devices.

Games like the innovative Ingress in 2012 and stealth technologies such as the highly touted Magic Leap (which still hasn’t shipped) haven’t done much better. In fact, AR was dead and buried until it was rescued this week by cute battling “Pocket Monsters,” or Pokémon, from a fading Japanese franchise of trading-card and video games and cartoons. 

Pokémon Go isn’t much of a game

As a game, Pokémon Go isn’t much, but it cleverly leverages smartphone cameras and GPS locations to overlay the Pokémon characters onto real-world environments and maps. Hence, augmented reality.

That’s been more than enough to spark a worldwide phenomenon this week, with the game setting records for popularity and sending players far and wide looking for Pokémon to capture. Some of those places—dangerous cliffs and into the arms of robbers, among many others—may not be appropriate spots for game players, but the scent of danger has so far only added to the game’s sudden appeal. And there are lots of reports of usually sedentary gamers getting unaccustomed exercise walking around hunting for the cute critters.

Still, I predict the lure of Pokémon Go won’t last. I’m not a Pokémon fan, and I’ve only dabbled in the new game. But in my opinion, there’s just not enough gameplay value to create a sustainable hit.

Sparking a boom in AR

Nevertheless, I’m excited about the game’s success. I hope the buzz will spark new and better AR games (there are already several on the market) and, more important, other kinds of AR applications for consumers and business users. Heck, it’s almost enough to make me forget how awful Google Glass turned out to be.

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