Pokémon as an app is irrelevant, but it is a sign and portent of the future.
What do the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Arlington National Cemetery, and Senator Al Franken have in common? Pokémon Go. The first two have asked players to stop playing on their grounds; the latter has an inquiry about privacy. Yep, the United States Congress is now focusing its attention on Pokémon.
In case you've been under a rock, Pokémon Go is an app made by the good folks at Niantic Labs, who previously brought us Google's Field Trip and later the augmented reality game Ingress. The first was kind of dull, and the latter a bit to cerebral for most. But Pokémon Go? Well, it's the new, new thing.
We've covered this extensively because it's important, and it's incredibly popular. It's amazing, actually. I go for a short run, and everywhere I go there's someone trying to capture a Pikachu with their iPhone. I confess, I don't get it. I think I'm too old for Pokémon nostalgia and just old enough to think it's silly. That doesn't matter, what matters is Pokémon Go is the first augmented reality app for the masses.
Augmented reality for the masses
I've written in the past about the power of Microsoft's HoloLens. It's powerful and it's wonderful. There's no comparing a $3,000 developer gadget to a free app, but there is an important observation: AR is something people can get behind. Unlike virtual reality stuff, augmented reality isn't expensive — you already own the hardware required. It doesn't make anyone dizzy, ill, or anything else. Oh, and users love it. Pokémon Go isn't for everyone — in fact, it might very well be the next Pet Rock, Hula Hoop (kids, ask your parents) or FarmVille. Doesn't matter. It confirms, to me, that augmented reality has a much brighter future than virtual reality. And that's important for all device vendors.
Embrace existing hardware
Augmented Reality has the potential for developers to create experiences for users with their existing hardware, and, therefore, the opportunity to create dedicated hardware for the most immersive experiences. Even better, developers working to create augmented reality apps for existing platforms will have an edge to create apps for more dedicated devices. Pokémon Go might be a passing fad, but the key lesson should be that augmented reality isn't. As for Nintendo? The lesson for them is not to create a new retro-console for old NES games (although there's nothing wrong with that); the lesson should be that there's a high resolution, powerful device sitting in so many pockets that could run legacy NES, Super NES, etc., games.
It's time for Nintendo to stop waging a hardware war no one cares about, and embrace today's devices. Imagine how many of us would pay for official Nintendo games! … That's a thought for another day.