Why Pokemon Go Is Bad News for Virtual Reality

For years, Google tried to push Augmented Reality, using Google Glass as its gateway. It was, by most accounts, a failure. The glasses were expensive, clumsy, geeky, short on battery life, and not full featured. Most importantly, there was not a "killer app" that made people set aside those drawbacks because they just had to have it. Google even had a business that built AR apps called Niantic. It took Google morphing in to Alphabet and holding Niantic as an independent entity to finally make augmented reality popular.

Related: 3 Reasons Pokémon Go May Save Us All

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Pokemon Go

Niantic, the firm behind Nintendo's runaway hit, Pokémon Go, is not an Android-only enterprise. Niantic's independenc mean that a potential competitor to Google, such as Nintendo, could feel comfortable making the deal that resulted in such an app. Ironically, it seems Apple and Google may make more money off the app's in-app purchases than even Nintendo, because of the different arrangements. Still, Nintendo saw a $9 billion increase in its market cap thanks to Poké​mon Go's success! There's even talk that a long-delayed Pokémon movie will now be fast tracked.

The real winner though may be augmented reality itself. Developers who have built AR apps (myself included) can more easily explain what such an app can do, and users now appreciate the power of AR. The loser, however, might be those who bet the farm on virtual reality. While VR can be much more powerful, it has many of the drawbacks that Google Glass did. When users discover they can get an altered view of reality, using the phone they carry with them all the time, they may be reluctant to dive in to VR, which requires a full, often expensive, headset, hides their phone, obstructs their view of the real world thus limiting them to use at home, uses wires or batteries, and can cause headaches.

There are even stories of people getting out and meeting people (sometimes robbers) and getting exercise, thanks to Pokémon Go's emphasis on augmented reality. If the Pokémon Go app had instead let people stay inside, alone, and tour a virtual world to collect characters, it would not have been the phenomenon we've seen. And for VR app and gear makers, that's a harsh reality.

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Todd Bernhard's picture

Todd Bernhard is a bestselling (6+ million downloads) award-winning (AARP, About.com, BestAppEver.com, Digital Hollywood, and Verizon) developer and founder of NoTie.NET, an app developer specializing in Talking Ringtone apps including AutoRingtone. And his profile photo is of the last known sighting of Mr. Bernhard wearing a tie, circa 2007!

An iPhone is almost always attached to his hip or in his pocket, but over the years, Mr. Bernhard has owned an Apple Newton, a Motorola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Compaq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62. In addition to writing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bernhard has written for its sister publications, PocketPC Magazine and The HP Palmtop Paper.