What it is: Pokemon GO is one of the fastest growing mobile games in history that has brought attention to both Nintendo and augmented reality.
A month ago, most people probably couldn’t have told you what augmented reality means. Now after the fast growing popularity of Pokemon GO, practically anyone who is familiar with the game can tell you what augmented reality is. Unlike virtual reality that immerses you in a completely artificial world, augmented reality places imaginary objects overlaid on to your vision of the real world.
That’s why you can run around collecting Pokemon characters in your neighborhood. When you hold up your Android or iOS device to look at your surroundings, you can look for and capture Pokemon characters.
Now a company called CapitolaVR has created a concept video showing how Pokemon GO could work with Microsoft’s HoloLens. While impressive, it ignores one huge difference between using a smartphone and a HoloLens. You can tuck a smartphone in your pocket when you don’t need it and then pull it out when you want to look for Pokemon characters in your area.
With Microsoft’s HoloLens, you have to strap the device to your head and walk around in public. If you take it off, then you have to carry it around like an extra piece of luggage. So not only is Microsoft’s HoloLens inconvenient to use in public, it’s also far more cumbersome to use for extended periods of time, and even clumsier to carry around at all times when you don’t want to use it.
With a smartphone, you can look for Pokemon and then put your smartphone away in seconds by tucking it in a pocket or purse. When you need the smartphone again, it’s easy to pull it out and turn it on.
With a Microsoft HoloLens, you have to strap the device to your face and walk around. When you don’t want to use it, you have a choice of either keeping it strapped to your face or taking it off and carrying it.
Unlike a smartphone that just needs a free app to play Pokemon GO, Microsoft HoloLens requires that you purchase the HoloLens and then carry it around wherever you want to play Pokemon GO. Since most people already have a smartphone, installing a free app to play Pokemon GO is easy, convenient, and simple. Since most people don’t have a Microsoft HoloLens, that means they’ll need to buy one and carry it around with them whenever they want to use it, whether it means walking or driving around in public.
So the technical details don’t matter as much as social details. Technology is only as useful if it’s convenient for people to use. Augmented reality is simple and easy with smartphones that people already own. Augmented reality is much harder to use if it requires buying and using dedicated hardware (a HoloLens).
When you’re done playing Pokemon GO on a smartphone, you can still use your smartphone for what you originally bought it for, calling and texting. When you’re done playing Pokemon GO with a HoloLens, you now have to lug around an extra device in addition to a smartphone that you’re probably carrying around already.
Dedicated devices are not the solution. Sales of iPods plummeted once people realized they could play music on an iPhone just as well. Sales of dedicated digital cameras also plummeted when smartphone camera got good enough to use so you didn’t need to carry around a dedicated camera anymore.
Augmented reality works just fine on a smartphone that everyone already owns, so the idea that people will buy a Microsoft HoloLens just to use augmented reality makes as much sense as people buying an iPod just to play music when they already have a smartphone that can do that.
Just as it makes little sense to buy an iPod and lug it around with a smartphone, so it makes little sense to buy a HoloLens just to use augmented reality when you probably already have a smartphone.
Like dedicated digital cameras, the Microsoft HoloLens will be best for niche uses that can immerse the user in an augmented reality world such as inside a room. To expect an augmented reality game like Pokemon GO to suddenly boost sales of the HoloLens is like expecting the latest release from Taylor Swift to suddenly boost sales of iPods and dedicated music players.
Augmented reality is most convenient to use on a device that most people already have, which is a smartphone. Augmented reality isn’t as easy or convenient to use if it requires buying and wearing a separate device like Microsoft’s HoloLens.
Society adopts technology when it’s convenient to do so. Society never rearranges their entire life to adopt new technology just because it’s new technology. Look how long color TVs, microwave ovens, and fax machines took before finally catching on. Pokemon GO shows how easy and fun augmented reality can be on a smartphone. If Pokemon GO was only available on Microsoft’s HoloLens, do you think as many people would rush out to buy a HoloLens and run around in public with a HoloLens strapped to their face just to play this game?
Or do you think Pokemon GO became so popular because people could play it on devices they already owned that are convenient to use and carry at all times in public?