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Let's not crown AR the 'next big thing' quite yet

In the wake of the runaway success of Pokémon Go, many in the industry have hurried to proclaim augmented reality (AR) the “next big thing” in mobile. But while the app will undoubtedly launch numerous imitators, and some might even gain a following of their own, it is unlikely AR as it stands will permanently alter the app store landscape. Without a massive improvement to the huge number of crashes, freezes, and outages (and if we’re honest, the ability for Pokémon to believably augment themselves into reality),AR appears doomed to suffer the same fate as 3-D movies—popular for a short burst, but ultimately remembered as nothing more than a passing fad.

Yes, AR without a doubt played a role in Pokémon Go’s surge in popularity, adding a gimmicky element to it that many non-Pokémon fans, including myself, found intriguing enough to warrant a download. But already—not much more than a week after release— plenty of users are switching off the AR feature. It’s a major clue that the sustained success of the app (still no.1, per Apptopia data) is due largely to the Pokémon IP, not the AR component.

Really, though, one just needs to look at the previous endeavors of Niantic, Pokémon Go’s publisher, to see the degree to which AR has failed to resonate with audiences. I wrote a more in-depth recap last Wednesday, but the short of it is both of Niantic’s previous apps, one of which relied on the very same “Pokestop” mechanic as Pokémon Go, performed poorly.

And it’s not just AR games that haven’t taken off. No AR app, regardless of category, has experienced much in the way of success. Recently, Tom’s Guide, a publication providing “buying advice, in-depth reviews and expert recommendations in a wide variety of tech product categories,” posted a rundown of the “most popular” AR apps out now on Google Play and iOS. Of the 14, none are doing particularly well.

To post all of them would be overkill. But to give you an idea of the lack of success we’re talking about, these are the two best performing “popular” AR apps on both iOS and Google Play[1].

Google Play:




Sure, Google Translate has performed decently well, but is anyone really downloading it because of the AR feature? And at any rate, look at the steep drop-off in downloads of the second-highest performing app, Blippar. Even more telling, none of the 14 apps received any discernible boost in downloads following the unprecedented run of Pokémon Go, where interest in AR is higher than it has ever been.

The Future of AR
Many publishers and developers are nevertheless moving forward with AR plans, including heavyweights like Nike and Apple. If anyone can push the needle, they will. But it won’t be easy.