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What's the future for mobile AR?

Columnist Jon Jordan looks ahead
Product: The Walking Dead: Our World | Publisher: Next Games | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad, Virtual Reality, AR
The Walking Dead: Our World AR, thumbnail 1
Welcome to the latest in our series of Pocket Gamer columns. We're taking the best games writers in the industry and giving them a platform. Veteran journalist Jon Jordan is here each week examining the trends shaping your mobile games scene. This week, he's looking to the future of mobile AR.

There's no question the rise of the phone has been the most significant event in the history of gaming.

Even prior to app stores, embedded games like Snake on feature phones probably doubled the number of people regularly playing games.

Of course, the arrival of smartphones exploded the quantity and quality of games available, taking gaming's global audience to 1, 2, 3+ billion people.

So what happens next?

There are - and have been plenty of - attempts to build on the ubiquity of mobile devices but to-date both wearables and (mobile) virtual reality have been flops.

Augmented reality has more potential and can point to Pokemon Go as a success story, although the importance of AR in this predominantly location-based game is arguable.

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More importantly, AR is a native mobile experience. You don't have to buy anything new to experience it, nor do you necessarily have to hold or interact with your phone in a different way than you typically would.

That said, the vast majority of apps and games currently using augmented reality are heavily limited, not least by their need to be used in a well lit room in which there’s a flat surface onto which they can place their virtual objects.

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Ironically AR games seem to have replaced their legacy paper positioning markers with tables, which are larger and less moveable.

On this basis, it would be easy to write off the entire sector but unlike wearables and VR, I think AR's problems can put down to inexperience on the part of developers and limitations of the technology.

In the latter case, as mobile devices get ever-faster processors and better low-light lenses and perhaps other sensors, their ability to sufficiently understand scene geometry will make AR’s current 'tabletop' restriction appear as ridiculous as black and white TV now seems.

Getting better all the time

Similarly, developers will quickly understand the best ways of using AR. Interesting examples in this respect include the AR garage mode in CSR Racing 2, which is primarily designed to be used outside, although there's also an indoor toy car mode.

Next Games' The Walking Dead: Our World is another outside-first AR experience while Reality Gaming hopes to mix AR with location-based elements (and blockchain) in its Reality Clash shooter.

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That said, I think mobile AR will turn out to have been just a short stop in the technology's overall development.

Whatever you may have thought of Google Glass, it seems pretty clear some sort of extremely lightweight headset is the most appropriate ultimate form factor for AR, just as a wirefree head mounted display is for VR.

And, in a more general sense, what will be interesting to see is how each of these technologies maps to people's individual needs. The best case scenario for them over the next 10 years would be - like games consoles - every home has a VR headset, while - like a mobile phone - the AR headset will be a more personal viewing device.

Indeed, the growing incidence of short-sightedness in children, which is partly caused watching screens too close to your eyes for too long, could provide an ironic opportunity to 'solve' two problems at once.

AR spectacles on prescription from your healthcare provider? You heard it here first.

If this column has given you food for thought, share your comments below and bookmark Jon Jordan's page for more of the same next Monday. Remember to also check out words of wisdom and mirth from experienced games journalists Susan Arendt and Harry Slater each week. 

Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan 2 April 2018
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