Pokémon Go Is Just the Beginning: Wait Until VR's on 5G!
It has only been a week since the launch of the app, but Pokémon Go has already spread across cities in Australia, Germany, the US and elsewhere like a cutesy pandemic that sees its victims caught in a rictus of squinting, standing still in the street at awkward moments, and complusively swiping at their upheld smartphones to catch their little monsters.
But here's the thing, this is -- fact -- just the start of the era of successful commercial augmented reality apps. And things are going to get a whole lot more immersive, realistic and further blur the line between game and reality as super-fast 5G mobile networks start to arrive in 2020 or so.
Just in case you've been vacationing in North Korea recently -- and, hey, everyone knows Pyongyang time is party time! -- Pokémon Go is already the most popular mobile game in the world and it hasn't even been launched globally yet.
The game uses GPS to place the animated Pokémon into a user's allegedly real environment and encourages them to walk far and wide in search of the little monsters. You can catch the Pokémon on the go, find Pokéstops to collect stuff to make your critter stronger, and finally battle them in gyms, all dotted across your actual cityscape.
This can lead to earnest conversations about having "to walk around to hatch the eggs" in the office, which made me wonder exactly what kind of mushrooms were in my mushroom quiche that day. It's also made the foot traffic in Union Square even more difficult to navigate than usual, as people were not looking away from that Pokémon for an instant.
But, hey, we're not here to talk about $20 an hour Pokémon trainers, the ethics of locating a PokéStop in the Holocaust Museum, or how Nintendo now has the kind of user data collection reach that even the NSA might envy.
Nope. In fact, Pokémon Go is a first, small step into the world of augmented reality (AR) and eventually virtual reality (VR). The game actually requires quite a suspension of disbelief: The monsters are clunky if cute augmentations to the real world. And I figure the twin hooks are novelty and nostalgia -- people grew up playing with the cards and handheld games. But this is just a training-wheels ride compared to what is likely to come.
VR is in its infancy now, needing wires or the latest WiFi technology and bulky visors or helmets to provide a limited experience. 5G -- with giagabit speeds and milliseconds of network latency -- should unshackle the technology and bring it to the streets. [Ed note: Probably with a Google Glass type device connected to the user's smartphone. Nobody would be dumb enough to market a full outdoor visor, right? Right?!!]
Still the technology today is good enough to provide a 360-degree, immersive graphic environment. Which is already enough to make some people dislocated enough to become incredibly dizzy and even vomit.
So, yeah, people are probably going to be tripping over trash cans, stepping in front of cars, and colliding with lamp-posts as mobile VR arrives with 5G.
Now that Nintendo has proved that commercial AR can be a success, we're likely to see a lot of other developers jump on the bandwagon. That might help us understand the limits and set some parameters before true mobile VR arrives in 2020 or so.
Think of each new AR app that arrives as a PokéStop where we can collect eggs and get stronger on the road to immersive VR. If that helps.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading