On July 6, 2016, Niantic released Pokémon Go, a smartphone app in which users walk around the real world with the goal of capturing imaginary monsters. Within days of its release, it had become a phenomenon. And as of late June 2017, the game had been downloaded 752 million times and earned a total of $1.2 billion in revenues, according to Apptopia, an app intelligence startup based in Boston.
Pokémon Go checks many of the boxes of a viral sensation: It's adaptable to wherever players are, it's easy to explain, it's shareable and it’s based on a recognizable brand. Looking back at the past year, the app has had some major implications for culture and business at large.
1. It showed the promise of augmented reality.
Augmented reality, which utilizes a device's camera to overlay digital objects onto the real world, had been heralded for years as a potentially game-changing technology, but it never quite had crossed over into the mainstream -- just look at Google Glass. Pokémon Go was the first app that utilized AR and really captured people's attention. Apple CEO Tim Cook even raved about it to investors (although he mispronounced Pokémon).
2. It presented a new way of marketing a business.
In the game, players can visit PokéStops, which are areas where the digital monsters can be lured and captured. Savvy small-business owners near these locations took advantage of the increased foot traffic and specifically marketed to Pokémon Go players. Larger brands, such as McDonald's and Starbucks, teamed up with Niantic to turn their stores into "gyms" and PokéStops, which reportedly earned the app maker 15 cents per visit.
3. It got people walking.
Perhaps one of the more interesting effects of Niantic's smartphone app is that it actually motivated people to walk around and explore the real world with… interesting consequences. One study suggested that players took an additional 2,000 steps per day thanks to the game. Meanwhile, people played it in places they shouldn't have, such as Arlington National Cemetery, or just off the beaten path, which led to one unfortunate case of a girl finding a dead body. Some people even tried to play while driving, which didn’t always end well.