Pokémon Go one year on - two lessons and one question

PCR takes a look at what the digital monster catching game has done for tech
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While it might not be at the very top of the zeitgeist quite so much, today marks the one year anniversary of the launch of Pokémon Go – the Nintendo-licenced augmented reality game that took the world (and the streets) by storm. You'll likely hear occasional chatter about it now or see the odd person playing it out and about, but it's easy to forget just how big it was. Just a few days after launch, the game had a reported 45 million daily users and by the end of July it had become the fastest growing, most popular and most remunerative mobile game of all time.

Looking outside of the huge cultural impact of the game, we thought we'd take a look at what Pokémon Go has meant for tech a year down the line, what lessons can be learnt and what it's made us question.

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Customers will look over flaws, but only if your product hooks them in.

It's safe to say that Pokémon Go didn't have the smoothest launch in the world. Like online-only games on PC and console, it's nigh-on impossible for developers to appropriately stress-test their servers. As a result these kinds of games will generally suffer at launch as an unpredictable influx of new users from all corners of the globe try to get in on the action. Seeing users complaining on Twitter about unstable – or often outright rejected – connections became commonplace for the first few weeks after launch.

It wasn't just server issues that plagued the game. The app itself was also fairly buggy and crashed without warning and for no real reason. And this is still a problem today. 

However, the game still had millions of players every day which shows just how invested people were – and still are – in it. Whether it was because of the 'hype', or simply because they just really enjoyed the app, people were dealing with the game's flaws because the core product had piqued their interest. 

It shows that if you can draw a consumer in on an emotional level with a product that they feel attached to then a bumpy start isn't the end of the world.

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Future tech should look to nostalgia for mainstream success

Pokémon Go was by no means the first application of AR. Both Nintendo and Sony included AR cards with their respective 3DS and PSVITA handheld systems as something of a tech demo to showcase their new consoles. Even Pokémon Go developer Niantic had made a very similar game called Ingress back in 2012. When people started running around central park looking for digital monsters it wasn't as if it was entirely revolutionary tech.

What Pokémon Go did differently however was, utilising the sacred lens of nostalgia, to present this technology that most people weren't previously aware of in a way that was relatable, understandable and simple to use. The layman probably still won't know what the term augmented reality means, but they will understand how Pokémon Go works and will then be able to see how other AR applications work.

But this is an ethos that can be carried across to other technologies as well. Framing whatever will be the next exciting bit of tech through relatable and already established cultural ideas will no doubt help cement its success in the mainstream. Of course it wouldn't work for everything, but attaching new tech to properties that consumers already gravitate towards – particularly in an age where we are saturated with reboots of old films and games from the 80s and 90s – should aid with understanding and acceptance.

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Pokémon Go proved AR can be successful, but where does it go now?

The biggest dilemma we face now is the uncertainty of whether AR has a long-term viability with serious applications, gaming or otherwise, or if it is just a novelty flash-in-the-pan with a single application. 

Well, according to Apple it's definitely the former. In announcing the latest version of its mobile iOS at June's WWDC17, the Cupertino iPhone maker launched ARKit which will help developers easily create AR apps.

Similarly, Google is also working on AR related development tools with Tango, but that is a fair way off from being a reality in the mainstream.

If Pokémon Go was the first widespread application of AR, then the next step should come this Autumn with the launch of iOS 11 and all the AR apps developed using Apple's technology. It will only be then whether we will have a greater idea of whether AR will sink or swim.

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