Pokemon Go Shows Augmented Reality’s Edge Over Full-On Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is often lauded as the future of gaming. With its high-tech headsets, it can transport gamers to fantastic virtual environments, completely separate from the real world.

But the recent runaway success of a mobile Pokemon app suggests great promise for augmented reality -- virtual reality's less glamorous, less isolating cousin.

Less than a week after its U.S. launch, players on average are spending more time in "Pokemon Go" -- which uses gamers' real-world locations to make cartoonish creatures appear on their phone screens -- than Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, according to Internet analytics company SimilarWeb. The app has fueled a nearly 25% jump in Nintendo's stock, adding some $7.5 billion to the market cap of a game-maker that had previously lagged in mobile gaming.

Across the world, shops, parks and other public spaces have recorded a surge in foot traffic as gamers venture outside, smartphones in hand, in search for Pokemon to catch.

For some analysts, "Pokemon Go" is validation of what they've been saying all along: That despite the hype surrounding virtual reality and its buzzed-about gadgets such as Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR, augmented reality, or AR, will play a much bigger role in our lives.

"Virtual reality is a fun, vibrant niche that will never be mainstream, whereas augmented reality will absolutely be mainstream," said Dmitri Williams, president of Ninja Metrics, an advanced data science company that works in gaming and retail. "The reason is VR separates you from people, while AR augments your interactions with people."

Where virtual reality currently requires the aid of a headset that obscures a person's face, augmented reality is less imposing and can be done on a smartphone, blending the real and virtual on a screen.

Some of the most popular games succeed, Williams said, because of they way they encourage gamers to foster...

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