Pokémon GO

Pokémon Go turns 1 and challenges you to catch all these special events

It’s been one year since Pokémon Go smashed mobile game records, hitting revenues of $600 million at an unprecedented rate of only 90 days. To celebrate, developer Niantic, Inc. and licensor The Pokémon Company International are hosting a number of real-world and in-game events.

Niantic reports that the game was downloaded over 750 million times since it launched on July 6, 2016, and according to market researcher App Annie, it generated a total of $950 million in revenue last year. It was a cultural phenomenon, and though its implementation of augmented reality is rudimentary, it educated more users than ever before on the potential…

Mobile AR could hit $60 billion by 2021 thanks to Apple and Facebook

The mobile AR platform war kicked off at F8 with Mark Zuckerberg’s proclamation that “we’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform.” That simple sentence transformed what had been a one-hit wonder in Pokémon Go into an epic battle between Facebook, Apple, Google, Tencent, Snap, Alibaba, Baidu, Samsung, Huawei and more. Apple’s announcement of its ARkit for iOS this week as “the largest AR platform in the world” took the mobile AR war to the next level. They’re fighting over a market that could hit over a billion users and $60 billion revenue globally by 2021 (as detailed in Digi-Capital’s new Mobile Augmented Reality Report).

Software is eating the (mobile AR) world

While folks were distracted by the prospect of an iPhone AR being launched by Apple, Facebook changed the game fundamentally by launching its mobile AR Platform. But Apple secretly had its own mobile AR software plans brewing ahead and countered with ARkit for iOS. So where mobile AR hardware from Apple, Samsung, Huawei and others could deliver an installed base over 400 million users by 2021, Facebook, Tencent, Apple, Snap and others could drive a mobile AR software user base in the hundreds of millions next year, and billions by 2021. Mobile AR software platforms could deliver over 4 times the number of users of dedicated mobile AR hardware.

All about that base

Some folks might be incredulous at these sorts of numbers. So let’s look at hard data on installed bases and conversion rates for the major players to get a sense of scale.

Facebook’s AR platform could be rolled out to Facebook Messenger’s 1.2 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp’s 1.2 billion MAU, and Instagram’s 700 million MAU. While it’s tempting to add these numbers together, significant overlap means that is too aggressive (i.e. Facebook doesn’t have 3.1 billion unique MAU). It’s more conservative to think about either Messenger or WhatsApp as a starting point for the number of unique users Facebook could try to migrate to its AR Platform. And Facebook knows what it’s doing when migrating users to new features. 15 percent of WhatsApp users use Status 10 weeks after launch, 29 percent of Instagram users use Stories less than a year after launch, and 54 percent of Instagram users use Direct 4 years after launch. Now that’s a growth curve.

But let’s not forget that Apple is expert when it comes to converting existing users to new software, with 86 percent of Apple’s nearly 700 million iPhones installing iOS 10 a year after launch. That’s a pretty compelling prospect for the rollout of ARkit.

Tencent has 846 million MAU for WeChat, and migrated 61 percent of them to use Moments every time they open WeChat 5 years after launch. While Tencent hasn’t formally announced its AR platform yet, it battled Alibaba in the mobile AR market earlier this year. Of Snap’s 300 million MAU, they’ve migrated 45 percent to Stories 4 years after launch. Snap doesn’t describe Lenses as mobile AR yet, but it’s still fighting a head-to-head battle with Facebook and Apple over mobile AR. And this is before considering LINE, Kakao, Snow, Baidu and more.

The platforms entering the mobile AR software market have billions of users. They’re great at migrating them to new features. If hard data is anything to go by, the only user numbers that make sense for mobile AR software platforms are big ones.

Hard wearing

We’ve been saying for the last 2 years Apple is…

The factions of the mobile AR war

Mark Zuckerberg’s “We’re making the camera the first augmented reality platform” was the most important step so far toward mass market AR. Where Pokémon Go gave many consumers their first taste of mobile AR, and Google Tango ushered in the race towards high end mobile AR phones, Facebook’s AR Platform now democratizes mobile AR regardless of hardware. Apple launching an AR enabled iPhone this year or next year could combine with Facebook to kick-start the mobile AR market at scale, and also be the final step towards the next great platform war. Consumers will win as usual, but there will be blood (as we detailed in Digi-Capital’s new Mobile Augmented Reality Report).

The platform question

Hardware and software platforms are so intertwined that it can be hard to tell the difference, and this has played in Apple’s favor for the last decade. But Apple, Samsung and other phone makers have done such a great job with existing hardware, that this may backfire for mobile AR. Facebook’s AR Platform, for example, has shown exactly how the major social and messaging platforms can play the game using nothing more than a standard smartphone camera. So while device manufacturers roll out new hardware to build an installed base for AR phones, established and startup social/messaging platforms could build a mobile AR ecosystem and user base in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost. They’ll also be able to leverage this advantage as dedicated AR phones come to market.

What is mobile AR anyway?

At one end Pokémon Go is what some industry insiders call “the best worst example of AR”, because its ambient mobile AR is pretty basic. Lovely graphics positioned approximately against the real world on your phone screen, using basic computer vision and positional tracking. Nonetheless it’s introduced mass consumers to mobile AR, and they’ve loved playing with it.

At the other end of the spectrum is Google Tango, with hardware based immersive mobile AR driven by integrated hardware and software. Without diving into the technical weeds, Tango phones enable accurate motion tracking, area learning and depth perception in a device that looks much like any other smartphone. The difference comes from a motion tracking camera, a depth sensing camera, an infrared projector, computer vision and Simultaneous Localization And Mapping software. So virtual objects superimposed on the real world appear as you would expect them to if they were really there. But Tango’s time is yet to come in terms of consumer awareness and app ecosystem (though Google, Lenovo and Asus are trying).

Facebook and Snap’s software-based immersive mobile AR is a serious contender, as it combines the ubiquity of ambient mobile AR with some of the computer vision and SLAM that previously required dedicated hardware. While Google Tango’s sensors enable heavier duty mobile AR apps, that’s not the problem Facebook and Snap are solving. By plugging immersive software based mobile AR into the largest consumer platforms on the planet, they’re democratizing mobile AR for everyone for free. And free is a good price point. This hasn’t escaped the notice of Tencent in China either. Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Spiegel and Pony Ma didn’t get to where they are by being dummies, and so it is with software based mobile AR.

The cool kids

There’s another factor in the democratization of mobile AR that Pokémon Go highlighted – demographics. Sixty-eight percent of Pokémon Go users are between 13 and 29 years old. Even though that came from a very specific set of circumstances, it is the largest sample set of mobile AR mass adoption to date.

For comparison in terms of major consumer platforms: Eighty-eight percent of Americans from 18 to 29 use Facebook (two-thirds of them use Messenger), 76 percent of U.S. teens own an iPhone (81 percent want their next phone to be one), 75 percent of WeChat users are between 20 and 30, and 60 percent of Snapchat users are between 13 and 24. Spot the pattern?

Mobile AR will be adopted by the young. Platforms that can scale…

Augmented Reality Is Coming To Banner Ads

Samsung May Split Itself In Two

Less than a month after Mark Zuckerberg told developers about Facebook’s renewed focus on augmented reality, Blippar says its bringing the technology to the humble banner ad. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Less than a month after Mark Zuckerberg told developers about Facebook’s renewed focus on augmented reality, Blippar says its bringing the technology to the humble banner ad. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Augmented reality has been in stasis for the last couple of years, with app developers and gadget-makers still figuring out a mainstream use-case to trump the Pokémon GO phenomenon. London-based startup Blippar thinks the answer lies in advertising.

It’s been working with several automotive brands to launch mobile banner ads with augmented reality built into them. In one demonstration seen by Forbes, a smartphone user taps a banner ad which then swaps their screen out for an image of the inside of the car. The user can then move their phone around to see different parts of the car’s interior. If they give it permission to access their camera, they can see their real-life surroundings through the virtual windshield and windows of the car too.

“This is the industry’s first augmented-reality digital ad unit,” says Danny Lopez, who heads up product at Blippar, and says this is about giving digital display advertising a “new lease of life.” Blippar says a major car manufacturer will start showing augmented reality ads using Blippar’s software this month.

It’s worth noting that the number of people who avoid banner ads vastly outweighs those who deliberately tap on them. But Lopez says that the right wording, like “Jump inside our car right now,” can be enough to entice people to change their minds.

Blippar won’t say what other brands it is working with, but Lopez suggests the tech could be used for ads displaying clothes, and offer a means to use your smartphone camera to see what a jacket might look like on you.

Augmented reality has been around for years, and so have…

Pokémon GO’s ‘Worldwide Bloom’ Event Ends Tomorrow

How To Save For Sabbaticals As Well As Retirement

The leaf festival banner for Pokemon GO.
The leaf festival banner for Pokemon GO.

Credit: Niantic Labs

The leaf festival banner for Pokemon GO.

Blink and you might miss it. Pokémon GO is holding a “Worldwide Bloom” event right now, increasing the spawn rate for Grass type Pokémon and (ideally) making it easier to find creatures like Chikorita and Bulbasaur. And that’s it: while most Pokémon GO events come with a few different bonuses to get people playing, it appears that Niantic is playing with a slightly more limited format this time around. Not only is the event limited to the increased spawns, but it’s also pretty short when compared to previous events. It started on May 5 and it ends tomorrow, May 8, sometime in the afternoon PDT.

The event has not been without its share of strangeness, and not…

Microsoft’s HoloLens gets a new medical app using augmented reality for spinal surgery

Augmented reality (AR) isn’t just for Pokémon Go and Snapchat masks, the technology will can have practical applications in areas like medicine, too.

At least that’s the promise of the new Scopis Holographic Navigation Platform, which is designed to be used with the Microsoft HoloLens to help doctors perform spinal surgery.

The company claims that its system can use 3D tracking with the HoloLens to help accurately find…

A trio of visionaries will explore the future of augmented reality

Above: Tom Cruise in Minority Report inspired lots of tech companies.

I’m very excited about the trio of technology and entertainment visionaries that are the latest speakers for our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2017: How games, sci-fi, and tech create real-world magic. They include John Hanke, CEO of Niantic Labs and co-creator of Pokémon Go; Ralph Osterhout, CEO of Osterhout Design Group, maker of augmented reality glasses; and John Underkoffler, CEO of Oblong Industries, maker of the Mezzanine collaboration software and science advisor for the film Minority Report.

GamesBeat Summit 2017 will take place on May 1-2 at the historic Claremont resort hotel in Berkeley, Calif., just a short distance from San Francisco. You can secure your seat here. Register today and receive 20 percent off current ticket prices. Use the code Deantak.

I will moderate the session on the future of augmented reality, games, and new technologies. Our visionaries will have a conversation across the seams of science fiction, real-world technology, and games.

Above: John Underkoffler, CEO of Oblong Industries, was science advisor on Minority Report.

Underkoffler has been trying to make the vision of the 2002 film Minority Report, where actor Tom Cruise uses “data gloves” and gestures to control a transparent computer, into a reality. He founded Oblong in 2006, and launched Mezzanine for enterprise collaborators in 2012. Oblong’s technological and design trajectories build on fifteen years of foundational work at the MIT Media Lab, where Underkoffler was responsible for innovations in real-time computer graphics systems, optical and electronic holography, large-scale visualization techniques, and the I/O Bulb and Luminous Room systems.

He has also been science advisor to films including The Hulk, Aeon Flux, and Iron Man. He serves on the National Advisory Council of Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and on the Board of Directors of the E14 Fund in Cambridge, Mass., and of the Sequoyah School in Pasadena, Calif. He is the recipient of the 2015 Cooper Hewitt National Design Award and holds a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Underkoffler will also be giving a solo talk at our summit on May 1.

Above: John Hanke, CEO of Niantic Labs.

Hanke has been running Niantic and riding the rocket ship of Pokémon Go, which has more than 65 million monthly active users and has generated more than $1 billion in revenue in less than a year. His company is dedicated to building “real world” mobile gaming experiences that foster exploration, exercise and social interaction. Niantic has developed and released two games, Ingress and global phenomenon Pokémon Go. The company was originally founded as a start up within Google to explore the creation of new kinds of entertainment at the intersection of location, social, and emerging mobile devices. Niantic was spun out as an independent company in 2015 with backing from investors such as Google, Nintendo and The Pokemon Company.

Earlier in his career, John was a founder of Archetype Interactive, creators of one of the very first online massively multiplayer games, Meridian59, and then went on to co-found Keyhole, a company acquired by Google for the technology that lead to the creation of Google Earth. He was vice president of Google’s Geo division (overseeing projects including Maps and Street View) for seven years before founding Niantic.

Above: Ralph Osterhout, CEO of Osterhout Design Group

Osterhout is a developer, designer and…