By now, everybody has heard about Pokémon Go and its swift and spectacular rise to the top of the app world. For a game based on an old 90’s Gameboy game and TV show, it has surprisingly universal appeal – kids and grandparents, hipsters and business people have all embraced it. At its height, the app had 25 million active users.
Aside from making Augmented Reality (AR) mainstream by introducing it to the general public, this app is also a significant turning point for those working in User Experience Design. Bit by bit, the world has become more aware of the impact of UX design on everyday life and products. Our efforts to provide better user experiences have been acknowledged and UX designers are now considered an integral part of most businesses. User experience design has also shifted from a predominant desktop environment to mobile devices as users demanded more mobility in their products. Customers have also noticed this shift, and it has raised their expectations of what products and services are on offer.
Pokémon Go has just raised that bar even further.
User Experience Designers are used to adjusting for new information and rolling with the punches, but a big phenomenon like this does not come along every day, especially one that impacts us directly. This is a great opportunity for us to make new and innovative changes in our workplaces, but there are also pitfalls that we should stay aware of as we move into a new era of app development. Here are a couple of changes that are on the horizon.
User Experience out in the World, but Filtered Through a Screen
The main screen of Pokémon Go is seen through your mobile phone. Your avatar moves around a virtual map of the real world on your phone, scattered with PokéStops, lures, and gyms. This map reflects your real-world surroundings, but it does not require you to actively engage unless you want to. However, when you spot a Pokémon in the app and click on it, you switch to another screen where a Pokémon is standing in an enhanced version of your phone camera lens, ready to be caught. This is augmented reality, which allows people to interact with the game and the real world at the same time.
The implications of augmented reality are massive. Pokémon Go is a game, albeit a very addictive one, but it begs the question of what will happen when the technology it employs spreads to other uses. What about overlaying Google Map directions on the actual road? Passing by a store and seeing online sales displayed on their physical window? Opening the fridge and seeing our grocery list displayed, telling us what is missing?
Integrating virtual data onto the real world in real time was once deemed to reside in the distant future but we are now witnessing it today. There are already a number of apps that do this, but Pokémon Go will help draw the attention of the general public to these developments. We will probably see an influx of augmented reality apps – but be careful not to jump on the bandwagon too quickly. Not all apps would benefit from the augmented reality treatment, and as everyone has seen with Pokémon Go, deploying an app that is not refined and which has several bugs will eventually turn users away.
The golden advice here is, do not use a technology just for the sake of using it. So in this case, do not use augmented reality just to use augmented reality – use it when it genuinely opens up useful capabilities for your app audience.
User Tolerance for Bugs vs Excitement at a New Experience
Pokémon Go is exciting and fun and the biggest new thing, but you will find people describing it just as often as slow, frustrating, and buggy. It was released quickly, hacked even quicker to allow for those outside the US to play it ahead of time, and has had server issues ever since. While the usage did drop, the number of users still remains quite high. This seems to go against the usual rules of User Experience Design – work out the bugs before release, make sure the servers can handle an influx of users, and keep errors to a minimum. What makes Pokémon Go different?
The answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is that this is a new and innovative game with a large nostalgia factor that introduced people to augmented reality within mobile social gaming. Like all popular games, Pokémon Go makes use of some common gaming hooks such as the drive to find particularly rare Pokémon to get people playing it frequently.
This was all done at the same time. When people are trying a new product that is outside the realm of their experience, excitement tends to blind them to its flaws. Their assumption would be that part of it is their own inexperience that is leading to issues. Humans have a fairly high tolerance for faults and flaws, but only when it involves other humans (see most new relationships). We expect much more accuracy from computers and technology, and get annoyed when it fails us. Pokémon Go straddles the line between technology and the real world, which increases the tolerance levels, but not indefinitely.
The complicated answer is that a convergence of all of these aspects – new technology, new experience, human involvement, and hooks, are difficult to achieve all at once. There is definitely an element of luck involved and we are still trying to figure out the mechanics of how to make products go viral. However, that does not mean we cannot strive to make products that are innovative, social and contain good hooks.
One thing we should not do is aim to create bug-tolerant users. That is the wrong path to take, no matter how tempting it may look.
Encourage Social: The Pendulum Swings Back
One of the more troubling trends in recent times has been the isolation of people as a result of technology. Fewer people have been interacting in person, preferring to text rather than physically meeting. Technology even affects in-person interactions: you see it frequently in restaurants or classrooms where people are buried in their phones or tablet.
Enter Pokémon Go. The virtual landscape has changed, and it includes more people and real world interactions. Yes, people are still interacting with their phones and other mobile devices, but now they are looking up from their devices, talking and chatting with other players, showing off their collections, teaching others how to leave lures or throw Pokéballs, and communicating with strangers. This has had such an impact that we are even seeing medical articles stating that it is has helped people suffering from mental health, mood, social anxiety and depression.
People are starting to crave contact with other people in interesting new ways, and the best new apps are ones that satisfy that craving. The ‘new’ user experience of augmented reality will be inclusive of multiple people at the same time, will encourage real time interactions, improve communication, and will explore ways to build social gatherings outside of the screen.
Thinking Outside the Screen Starts Now
Pokémon Go is but one step in the direction the future is taking with technology. It is a turning point, not an end goal. It has opened the eyes of the public to the vast possibilities of gaming and apps outside the screen. We have an opportunity as UX designers to build on that legacy. Augmented Reality, virtual reality, and wearable technology are the new frontier and there is much to explore and improve upon in each of those areas.
What will our contributions be to the future? What new innovations will we provide to the public? Will our project be the next Pokémon Go? The world is watching and waiting to find out. It is time to sharpen your UX design skills and build the future.
(Lead image source: Tumisu – Creative Commons)