Last week, Nintendo (in conjunction with Niantic Labs and The Pokémon Company) released Pokémon Go, an augmented-reality game for mobile devices. Players must walk around the real world, trying to capture digital creatures that appear on their smartphone screens.
The game was an immediate hit, driving up Nintendo’s stock price by more than 25 percent in a matter of days. Gamers who preferred to never leave the comforting environs of their house found themselves getting a solid workout after hours of running around after Pika-whatevers. And one teenager in Wyoming, wandering around after virtual rewards, stumbled on a very real dead body (which unfortunately earned her no points).
Whether or not Pokémon Go proves a sustainable hit, or a passing but superheated fad, is almost beside the point for developers and other tech pros who work in the mobile space. The important part is that augmented reality is now clearly a concept that can appeal to a broad swath of users.
Despite massive investment in companies such as Magic Leap, and a certain degree of anticipation around the HoloLens and other augmented-reality hardware, augmented reality had yet to produce much along the lines of a “mainstream hit.” Snapchat has spent the past several months offering augmented-reality tools that overlay cartoons and drawings on users’ faces, but it’s difficult to parse the popularity of those features from that of the overall platform.
Pokémon Go, on the other hand, offers clear evidence that, with the right branding and execution, millions of people will embrace augmented reality. That may come as a relief not only to major tech firms investing millions in the technology, but also startups and indie developers who are exploring how best to build their own AR applications.
Those interested in pursuing augmented reality as a career should specialize in a handful of skills including 3D modeling (including lighting and prototyping), computer vision (which teaches devices to “see” the environment around them), and mobile programming (essential). All of those skills are advanced, and take years to master; but as Pokémon Go demonstrates, there’s certainly a market for the right kinds of AR apps.