The Phenomenon that is Pokémon Go

Colin McMahon
Jul 22, 2016

Pokémon Go, an augmented reality (AR) app for Android and iOS, launched in the U.S. and Australia on July 6, 2016 – less than one month ago. Since then, the app has exploded in popularity with gamers and the media. In its short lifespan, it has made multiple headlines and is engaging a larger active user base than some of the most popular social apps like Tinder, Twitter, and even Facebook. Spontaneous social gatherings – some with thousands of people – have been happening around the world. Pokémon Go is taking the world by storm, and it is not even available in every major country yet (Chinese release date is still TBA).


Part of the reason behind the explosive popularity is due to nostalgia. This is not the first time that Pokémon has been a phenomenon. To dissect the app’s rapid success, one must first look briefly at the original games in the 1990s. The original two games for the Nintendo Gameboy handheld hit the U.S. in 1998, generating a show, movies, a card game, and billions in profit. That was roughly twenty years ago. Since then, the kids that traded cards and battled on connector cables in the schoolyard have matured into smartphone carrying grown-ups, and this time they have actual income at their disposal.

Pokémon was a game series meant to transport players to another world – let them travel, explore, and collect creatures along the way. In short: a game ideal for AR conversion. The Pokémon Go app takes the game into the player’s “real” world. In doing so, Pokémon Go is not just a success in the gaming market, but a revolution in several other verticals as well.


Pokémon Go has no built-in chat options, but allows for online social networking by allowing a player to take pictures of their Pokémon, using the smartphone’s camera, and then post them to social networks (like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook). Once the user has reached a certain level (Level five), they are allowed to join teams that “battle” other teams for territory in the Pokémon network.

Pokémon Go could also be the most successful exercise app in history, requiring that players walk and explore their real world to find hidden Pokémon. There are even locations called “PokeStops” (places where users are rewarded with in-game items) that are located in public areas, such as parks, museums, stadiums, and other historical landmarks. So the app is also encouraging cultural immersion.

InfoTrends’ Opinion

In short, Pokémon Go is one of those social apps that took advantage of, and expanded upon, its already well-known gameplay into an immersive gaming, social networking, and exercise app. Pokémon Go is a perfect example of how traditional market boundaries can be made meaningless through innovation.

This phenomenon will likely have positive impact on the emerging AR industry. AR (whether Pokémon Go is true AR or not could be debatable) has definitely vaulted into the public awareness. Companies interested in creating successful AR apps should look to Pokémon Go for inspiration. That said, companies should not confuse Pokémon’s popularity with AR popularity. Based on limited search engine data from Google, while Pokémon Go has exploded, there has been no dramatic increase in AR activity.

Nevertheless, the enormous popularity of Pokémon Go in such a short peiod of time is a positive sign. AR has its foothold – time will tell exactly how much it is able to build off this app’s success.


Pokémon Go’s popularity is so far-reaching that it is affecting companies not even associated with Nintendo or Niantic.



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