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Last updated: May 14, 2021
With the rise of smartphones in the last 10-15 years, it was only a matter of time before the home laser tag industry would come up with a smartphone laser tag concept.
Several smartphone laser tag sets with augmented reality effects have been produced so far, but with mixed results. Smartphones are a necessity in today’s society and home laser tag is a popular game, so why is it that smartphone laser tag hasn’t been very successful yet?
In this article I am going to explain why, and I will also be looking at a few smartphone laser tag products that haven’t met expectations.
What Is Augmented Reality?
Most of us will be familiar with the concept of virtual reality. It’s basically computer-generated environments that we can interact with.
Augmented reality (AR) is a bit different. AR is the result of using technology to superimpose information — sounds, images and text — on the real world we are seeing. It adds to the reality, rather than replacing it.
In terms of smartphone augmented reality laser tag, this means your smartphone screen displays extra elements on top of what you are seeing.
Not all smartphone laser tag sets offer true augmented reality though, but the concept is generally very similar.
3 Reasons Smartphone Laser Tag Hasn’t Taken Off
Here are three reasons why I believe the smartphone home laser tag concept hasn’t been successful yet, and why it probably never will be.
1. Smartphones Continuously Evolve
Smartphones have a market lifespan shorter than your thumb. That new iPhone you bought yesterday will be outdated tomorrow. Okay, slightly exaggerated, but I’m sure you get the point.
Can you imagine the huge ongoing cost of having to stay up to date with the ever evolving smartphone market? Smartphone laser tag guns and their apps will need to continuously evolve with that market otherwise they will end up being outdated and incompatible.
With normal, old-school home laser tag, this problem doesn’t exist. You build a product, fine-tune it based on reviews, and then you simply keep marketing and selling the product.
There is no real need to keep developing new versions of that laser tag product once the product is considered stable.
2. Smartphone Laser Tag with Augmented Reality Is Dangerous
Yes, I think smartphone laser tag is potentially very dangerous.
The first problem I’m seeing is that running around while focusing on your smartphone screen is an accident waiting to happen.
Sure, you won’t be looking at that little screen non-stop, but with true augmented reality, that smartphone screen will be your main focus. And that’s risky, especially when playing battles outside on the streets.
The other issue I am seeing is a bit different. Picture this, you see a dude outside running around with a laser tag gun in his hands. He’s a bit far away, so you can’t see things clearly. Then you see another dude coming around the corner, also carrying something that looks like a gun.
Get it? That could get ugly.
3. It’s Just Not Old-School Enough
Okay, I’ve said it before, I am an old-school kinda guy. For me, the fun of laser tag (and also Nerf) is aiming at and shooting each other without all the unnecessary tech. You grab a blaster and start chasing your enemy. It’s as simply as that.
I do like a scoring system of course. Some form of technology to keep track of scoring is definitely a good thing to have.
But smartphone laser tag, with augmented reality, it sounds great on paper but I find the extra bells and whistles hugely distracting.
3 Examples of (Failed) Smartphone Laser Tag Products
Let’s have a closer look at a few concrete examples of smartphone augmented reality laser tag products that have either completely failed, or haven’t yet met the high expectations.
1. Hex3 AppTag Laser Blaster
Launched on Kickstarter in 2012, the Hex3 AppTag Laser Blaster was one of the first home laser tag products that allowed for a smartphone to be attached to the blaster to enhance the laser tag experience.
While it reached its goal of raising $30K, it doesn’t look like the product ever took off, and updates stopped within a year. I think one of the issues with the product was (in)compatibility with different smartphone brands and models.
Check out this video to see what the Hex3 AppTag Laser Blaster was all about:
Funded through Indiegogo, Father.IO is a unique smartphone laser tag system that uses an inceptor that needs to be attached to a smartphone. This device together with an app turns your smartphone into a laser tag gun.
And that’s also the biggest issue I am seeing with the Father.io product. You’re not actually using a real laser tag gun. Your smartphone is the laser tag gun. While this is certainly a revolutionary concept, it just feels weird to be shooting with your smartphone.
The fun with laser tag, in my opinion, is that you’re shooting each other with gun-shaped toys. Aiming and shooting with a smartphone takes that away, and it’s just a bit counter-intuitive.
Here’s a video for you to get an idea of how Father.IO works:
Pretty cool, right?
It’s obvious that they invested heavily in their marketing and I personally quite appreciate the passion they seem to have had for their product.
But sadly, the product never took off. They generated a good amount of money on the Indiegogo website, but the product just never worked out.
Looking at the most recent updates and comments placed, it’s obvious that the product has failed, and that most of the backers have missed out.
It’s a real pity. I love it when people get together and design and create a brand new product from scratch, driven by a healthy dose of passion. But some things just aren’t meant to be.
3. Recoil Laser Tag by Skyrocket
Released in 2017 by tech-entertainment company Skyrocket, Recoil Laser Tag is a revolutionary augmented reality laser tag system that allows up to 16 players to participate in one and the same battle.
Recoil evolves around a central Wifi game hub that functions as a GPS enabled local network router. Each blaster in a battle uses a smartphone with an app that connects to the game hub. The features on paper are pretty amazing but, as you can imagine, the system is also quite complicated.
I actually quite like the concept behind it, with a centralized unit. And the blasters, I must admit, do look pretty cool.
At the time of writing, they are still selling these smartphone laser tag sets. The numbers don’t look too impressive though, and I expect this product to be phased out soon.
You can purchase a Recoil Laser Tag set on Amazon here.
What About Nerf Laser Ops Pro?
Can Nerf be our smartphone laser tag savior?
I do hope so because their Laser Ops Pro product, released in 2018, is actually really cool. You can check out my review of Laser Ops Pro here.
The best part? You don’t necessarily need to attach your smartphone to the gun in order to play. You can play a great laser tag battle with Laser Ops Pro without using any smartphones at all.
In other words, the smartphone aspect is fully optional. Without the use of the app, the Laser Ops Pro blasters are fully functional, with light and sound effects, indicators for health, ammo and teams, quick-reload button, and more.
They are pretty awesome laser tag blasters, without the augmented reality effects. If you do want to use your smartphone, you can either attach it to the blaster or to your arm with the special armbands that are provided. Download the corresponding app and you’re good to go.
I must be honest here, the smartphone features of Laser Ops Pro are actually really good. They’ve created a pretty awesome product, but the question remains, will the market accept it and turn it into a success?
You can purchase a Laser Ops Pro set on Amazon here.
>> My list of best home laser tag sets currently available.