What is Pokemon GO? Is augmented reality's killer app here?

Martin Calvert

What is Pokemon GO? Is augmented reality's killer app here?

Pokemon GO’s impact in its initial week of launch has been phenomenal, with significant implications for future technology – and lessons to be learned by marketers.

From desktop publishing for early home computers and email for the internet to Angry Birds for touch-screen gaming, new technologies are secured and advanced by unmissable features that essentially sell or introduce the whole concept. In slightly dated terminology, these are known as killer apps that bring the form into the mainstream consumer marketplace.

Pokemon GO may well be the killer app for augmented reality.

What is Pokemon GO?

Pokemon GO is a smartphone game that is both wildly popular and potentially – whisper it – genuinely disruptive for how people and business understand and make use of augmented reality.

The Pokemon franchise encompasses decades of games, television series, comic books, collectables and much more and has been a flagship franchise for Nintendo in Japan and worldwide. Pokemon GO represents the first foray of the franchise as a mobile-first game, but the social element was always there from trading card days through to Game Boy iterations and beyond.

The game works using phone GPS to illustrate your surroundings and places collectable cute monsters around you, from which point you can train and develop your creatures in order to pit them against other players in morally dubious combat.


What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a technologically-assisted way of looking at your surroundings. Using a phone’s camera function or a VR headset, or even technology like Google Glass, the world around you is overlaid with computer generated images, sound, animations and more.

In a working environment, an employee may make use of an augmented-reality headset to see particular instructions on how to carry out a task or assess a repair, as Lockheed Martin are exploring.

These additions are determined by software that (usually) responds in real time to show visuals and play sound that adds to the current context.

Examples include Snapchat’s portrait feature that can alter user features and add cute animations that respond to the faces you pull, or interactive billboard advertising that provides layers of interactivity when viewed through an app, or the ability to wave a magic wand and make magic happen:

Pokemon GO’s success

Bloomberg’s Luke Kawa has stated that, within days of going live Pokemon has more “mindshare per user” than apps like Snapchat or WhatsApp and has challenged Twitter for most daily active users, fuelled by record setting sales.

For marketers the story of Pokemon Go seems to appeal on several levels. For those of a certain age and disposition like myself, it’s nice to see Nintendo back on top – though inevitably app stores seem to be making the lion’s share of the profit from purchases. 

On a more significant level, Pokemon GO could be the app that truly brings augmented reality into the mainstream. Often seen as an expensive novelty, various iterations and attempts at augmented reality have been of limited appeal.

One of the main barriers has been a lack of critical mass, and a lack of the social component that seems to be so essential for new innovations to take root. There is something very solitary about a virtual reality headset, in spite of breathless technology journalist reviews.

Is Pokemon GO the killer app of augmented reality?

Augmented reality technology has been in use for a number of years but as a large scale, in-depth introduction to how it may be used, Pokemon GO may open doors for game companies, app developers and, yes, marketers.

Pokemon GO is a truly social phenomenon that is getting people into the habit of engaging with their lived environment through augmented in an ongoing way – not a five minute ‘that’s cool’ glance, but real depth of engagement, solidified by a strong social component.

This may mean that future augmented reality apps may be an easier sell, at least to the Pokemon Now demographic. More than this, there is now a very clear example of what mainstream success looks like.

Future implications

The genie is somewhat out of the bottle with Pokemon GO, with new discoveries and interpretations being made and claimed daily.

From concerns about privacy and safety (due to risk of robberies and more) through to claims that the game has positive implications for social cohesion, physical fitness and mental health (even with the discovery of the game inadvertently facilities the discovery of dead bodies) there is much yet to learn.

Marketers need to pay attention to these stories and understand the how Pokemon GO’s reception can provide clues about adoption of new technology and the aspects of the game that resonate to create a hit.

At Blueclaw we specialise in data-driven marketing – ahead of trends and relentlessly commercial. For an introduction to our approach in the realm of eCommerce, download our latest guide.



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