Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pokémon Go Drags Augmented Reality to Coolness (Finally)

Pokémon is back, and it's taken a flailing technology and made it relevant and even cool again, too. Augmented reality—the ability to witness an altered version of our world via a smartphone display -- was written off by most. It had gone the way of the QR codes. Faded and irrelevant. Pokémon Go has consumed the public’s consciousness and, in a single weekend, thrown augmented reality into the mainstream. It’s fun and so people actually use it, and that’s critical because augmented reality is suddenly something the whole world can experience in an accessible and interactive manner.

But times have changed (or returned, in this case) as the Nintendo-owned franchise, which exploded in popularity in the late 1990s, is again taking the world by storm — this time through Pokémon Go, its biggest entry into the mobile space, now available for a free download on Android and iOS. It’s so popular that it’s now overtaken Twitter based on daily active users on Android.  It's amazing to see how people are clamoring to download and use this app, even if it's before it's official release in their country.

What is exactly Pokémon Go?  It's an AR game that utilizes a phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when in the game Pokémon will "appear" (on the phone's screen) in order to "go" and catch it. By moving around, various types of Pokémon appears, but depending on when and where an individual is situated. The idea is to encourage people to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game.

Augmented reality in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre Recognition Wall
In many ways, augmented reality has arrived, albeit much later than we have expected. Three years ago, I experimented with the technology and at that time it was Layar that was the most popular app. In the "Virtual Museum," augmented reality became a useful tool for highlighting the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s history as the Main Library using UBC Library’s digital collections. Patrons using their smartphones or iPads could view the current Wall of Recognition and see the wall "come alive" with archival images and videos of students and alumni talking about their experiences in the building - past and present.   Back then, the technology was still in its infancy.  It was a novelty.  Pokémon Go has really opened up the game.  What are the opportunities for AR in libraries and education?   There's great potential to use the technology now that people are looking up instead of down and will eventually grow to love the neat applications of AR.