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'Pokemon Go' game craze could be an augmented reality game changer


"Pokemon Go" - the game everyone in your life is talking about - helped Nintendo to do in a matter of hours what the first lady has been trying to do for eight years: get people moving.

The Nintendo and Niantic mobile app is free to use and available to everyone. It is so popular it helped send shares of Nintendo way up and has even surpassed dating app Tinder in installs, according to SimilarWeb data.

And beyond its stock-boosting and fitness-improving power, the mobile game is proving to be just the push in popularity augmented reality (AR) tech needs.

Mark Skwarek, the director of NYU's Mobile Augmented Reality Lab, told Circa that Pokemon hit a sweet spot by introducing AR tech through the lens of a classic video game. And, because of it, has been able to win over both fierce gamers and first timers in such a short amount of time.

"You will acclimate a new generation to this technology," he said, adding that AR tech could bring big opportunities to industries besides gaming, such as education and retail.

"[We] could really start to democratize technology by using AR in a way that adds value to people's daily lives," Skwarek said.

From shopping, to home renovations, and even learning a new language, AR tech could help.

Think, for example, how the process of renovating a home or updating your wardrobe could be simplified if you could virtually test out how a new couch looks in your living room, or how a fall coat fits.

In addition to being a hit among AR enthusiasts, it's striking a nostalgic chord with avid gamers. Skwarek says everyone in the AR Lab is playing "Pokemon Go."

Eric Decker is the vice president of technology for Firstborn - a digital agency focused on virtual and augmented reality. He says he, his team and even his family had been anticipating the game's release for weeks.

Decker told Circa the tech works because of the playful nature of the game and believes Pokemon has given other companies a leg up by making it cool to walk around openly use AR.

"I think pairing [AR tech] with the IP of Pokemon was a really smart move and I think that's why it has that interest and value to it," he said.

As the New York Times notes, part of why the game has been a runaway success is because it is easily accessible to smartphone owners and doesn't require the bulky, costly headsets typically associated with virtual reality.

But despite its rave reviews, as with any new tech, there are pitfalls.

Between privacy concerns regarding users' emails and problems with players getting lured to Pokestops by thieves, "Pokemon Go" hasn't been spared.

Some players have even sustained gnarly bumps, bruises and scrapes.

So Pokemon players, watch where you're going.

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