Why Pokémon Go Could Be a Watershed Moment for AR Technology

If you are alive and/or have checked the internet over the last few days, then you know: there is an invasion happening. They are here and living amongst us—down the street, in the park, at the office—and they are adorable.

Less than a week after the release of Pokémon Go, people of all ages are wandering their neighborhoods, smartphones in hand, obedient zombies desperately hoping for a glimpse of Ponyta or Eevee. Pokémon Go not only looks to be a legitimate gaming phenomenon right out of the gate, it could also represent the moment that augmented reality (AR) went mainstream. We asked LA-based virtual reality filmmaker Ashley Maria for her take on the Poké-madness.

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I live in Los Angeles, right across the street from a huge church. I pass it often, waving to the pastor and continuing on to the grocery store next door. It’s a nice, neighborly relationship. I have never just stood outside of it, though, looking up and staring at its sign—until today.

I just stood there. Looking. And waiting. You see, I was trying to figure out my first beacon.

I’m talking about Pokémon Go, a new smartphone-based game that forces players to go outside and explore the world around them.  Maybe force is a strong word but you do have to go outside to catch Pokémon and collect supplies from “beacons” in your area.

The game places a Pokémon in the space around you and challenges you to catch it with a Poké Ball. It uses the camera on your phone, so you can actually see a little Pokémon in front of you. They put one next to you when you first start the app, but then you must venture out for a super-fun Augmented Reality experience in your city.

As AR & VR technologies make their way into the mainstream, all it takes is one breakout application to help us understand how much they will impact our lives. Pokémon Go is that app. With more than 7 million downloads after a few days, this interactive AR game leveraged nostalgia to gain initial traction, and used its real-life implementation to get us all absolutely obsessed.

I first heard about the game in my Facebook feed when a few friends were hunting Pokémon at Disneyland. A short while later—with my social feed full of images of Pokémon popping up in friends’ apartments—I knew I had to join the party.

I downloaded the app, created my character (“itsashleymaria”) and waited for it to figure out my location. Immediately, there was a little Squirtle in front of me ready to be caught! I never played the Pokémon games back in the day so I felt pretty cool throwing a little white-and-red Poké Ball to catch this guy. Through the app, I saw that there were even more beacons and interactive spots for me to check out.

I ventured out, arriving at my first beacon (the church). As I stood outside, it didn’t seem to be working. I noticed the sign was on the other side of the fence – did I need to be directly under it for it to work? I actively tried to figure out how to get into the fenced-in courtyard but no luck. I’m not one to give up easily but my phone was drained. (This app drains your battery FAST.)

After a quick charge, I returned determined to figure it out. This time, it worked right away. A cool horse-like Pokémon called Ponyta appeared. I took a billion screenshots because she was so cute, and then I caught her.

Now I’m hooked. And it made my FitBit happy! I hit about 5,000 steps just searching for Pokémon. Plus, I got to see other parts of my neighborhood I may otherwise have never seen.

For more on Ashley Maria, go here. To learn more about Lenovo’s own augmented reality technology, explore our new AR smartphone or check out what we did in this Barcelona museum.