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Aug 9, 2016

Pokémon Go: Sweeping the Nation, but Skipping the Smartwatch

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Pokémon Go has swept the nation and beyond to become one of the most downloaded apps within the first week of its launch. Based on the concepts developed for Niantic’s Ingress game, which has a strong cult following, Pokémon Go has brought location-based augmented reality to the mainstream consumer market with a vengeance. In the name of research (ahem), and perhaps because it sounded fun, I was an early adopter. With friends and family signing-up quickly, I knew there was no way I could resist the urge to go Pokémon hunting.

The game itself is fairly simple, and very appealing, the app shows a map of the local area and as you (physically) move around, so too does your avatar. Upon coming across a Pokémon, the phone vibrates and provides you with two options to catch it, either in augmented reality mode (requiring the user to search for the creature using the phones camera), or directly within the game. The augmented reality mode explains the now all-too-familiar sight of people staring at their device screens while waving them around in the air: augmented reality has never been so popular!

Aside from the technical side of things, the game has done a great job at getting people together and keeping them active. While social networking taught us we could stay in touch without ever leaving the house, this game involves getting out-and-about. Bars and restaurants have jumped on board, becoming Pokéstops in hopes of driving new business, while participants aim to catch a rare Pokémon. That, in itself, is an interesting new advertising model not previously considered. More importantly, the app helps to demonstrate how new life can be breathed into existing device use, not to mention boosting the app model once again, with the right type of innovation.

The innovation doesn’t stop with the app. Nintendo, one of the game’s investors, has developed a small wearable called Pokémon Go Plus. The device lights up and vibrates when the wearer nears a Pokéstop or a Pokémon they have previously caught. Gamers interested in getting their hands on one will be able to do so sometime in early September, for the not-so-bargain price of $34.99. But this new device misses out on some obvious functionality: the game encourages people to be physically active and yet, the new wearable doesn’t even track users steps. Of course, adding such functionality comes with additional cost, and so perhaps the very existence of the device should be questioned? Instead, this capability would be a great app innovation for smartwatches, linking Pokémon detection to the underlying fitness, and even mapping, capabilities of the device.

Such an app would provide a clear use case for smartwatches, something that is missing for many consumers today, and would certainly help boost ownership levels. While (presumably) the allure of chasing Pokémon’s will fade over time, other smartwatch use cases will become apparent to this base, leading to lower device churn. My bet is that the first smartwatch OS to have this app will enjoy both an awareness boost and a related sales increase. As for me, my engagement has its limits. I only play on occasion and you won’t catch me running with a mob in Central Park in search of a rare Pokémon.


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