What Will Come of Pokémon Go?
Instead of taking big screens across the country by storm, this summer’s blockbuster has people glued to much smaller ones.
Launched at the beginning of July by San Francisco-based software development company Niantic, Inc., Pokémon Go has quickly become one of the most popular smartphone apps of all time. Data analytics firm Similar Web reported that in its first week alone, the app had been installed on nearly 11 percent of all android phones in the United States, and surpassed Twitter’s daily usage shortly thereafter.
Beyond being a viral sensation, the app’s success has striking implications for a number of industries. Willy Shih is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Management Practice in Business Administration at Harvard Business School and spent 28 years in industry at IBM, Digital Equipment, Silicon Graphics, Eastman Kodak, and Thomson SA prior to coming to HBS in 2007. A member of the School’s Technology and Operations Management unit, Professor Shih closely studies disruptive technology and technological strategy, and took time to analyze the Pokémon Go phenomenon below.
What does Pokémon Go’s success mean for augmented reality going forward? Is AR the next big thing?
Willy Shih: Microsoft Windows users in the late 80s and early 90s might remember that Microsoft came up with a Solitaire game as a way of introducing people to how to use a mouse. I think Pokémon Go is going to have the same effect, albeit unintended, of educating people about augmented reality. It’s a very clever introduction to the technology and beautifully illustrates the merging of the cyber and the physical. We’ve seen other things work similarly before—Google Glass, and heads-up displays in aircraft and high-end cars—but those only caught on in limited ways. Where they superimposed information on top of what you were already seeing, Pokémon Go superimposes geospacial information in an integrated way, allowing the game creators to put these monsters in exact locations and in physical spots of significance. That’s really quite different.
If you were in charge, how would you monetize Pokémon Go?
WS: With so many people looking for spots to collect these things, the platform’s ability to pull traffic to particular locations is innovative and completely unique, and represents a huge financial opportunity. It was just announced, for example, that McDonald’s is going to sponsor the game’s rollout in Japan. I imagine it could fundamentally change the face of things like sponsorship and mobile advertising. We haven’t begun to see the most outrageous applications of this yet.