I played Pokémon GO this weekend, because I was babysitting my nephew, and I couldn’t help but be reminded what a cultural force it was when it launched three years ago. Hundreds massed near San Francisco’s Ocean Beach every day to hunt. Huge crowds sprinted through Central Park to catch a Vaporeon. Disapproving finger-pointers penned whiny moral panics and sermons about how it encouraged crime and provoked danger.
One thing that was not controversial, though, was the belief that it was a harbinger, the thin edge of the AR wedge, only the first of many crossover games and universes. If you had told anyone then that, three whole years later, Pokémon GO would remain the only real example of a widely publicly successful AR/VR app, you would have been laughed out of most rooms.
And yet, here we are. Pokémon GO is still a hit (and remains fun!) but was not the vanguard of an AR/VR onslaught. Magic Leap — which by 2016 had already raised $1.4 billion! — remains at best a disappointment. Which is almost too kind a word for Oculus. AR as an industry has, to oversimplify, largely pivoted to business / work / industrial uses, in the hopes an actual market appears there. What happened?