Two cents blog

Pokémon GO: Google wants to Pikachu

by Dave Mooney on 14 July 2016

Blink 182 has a single out, a Clinton is running for President of the United States, Independence Day is in the cinemas and everyone is playing Pokémon…

Wait, what year is it again?

Pokémon GO is the latest craze to hit the web, and not since Kony 2012 have we seen the entire population of the internet talking about the same topic. Whether you’re for it or against it, chances are you’ve spoken to someone about it.

So, what’s all the fuss about?

Well, personally I’m not 100% sure because I’ve never been a massive Poke-man myself. Having said that, there are a lot of really (really) exciting prospects to come out of the craze.

Before I go on, here’s the back story…

A few years back a bloke named John Hanke started a company called Keyhole. In 2004, it was acquired by Alphabet’s Google, and it eventually went on to become Google Earth. After Keyhole was acquired by Google, Hanke stayed on as Vice President of Product Management for its GEO division (think Google Earth, Google Maps etc.). In 2010, as part of a Google initiative to breed an entrepreneurial spirit within its company, Hanke founded an internal Google start-up called Niantic Labs. This newly formed company had a crack at a few augmented reality apps which didn’t cause too many waves, and last year Google spun Niantic off into an independent company. In September, Niantic announced a partnership with Nintendo. Fast forward to last week when Pokémon GO was launched. Ok, history lesson over.

As much as the app is a success for Nintendo, the big winner is Google. Not just because it gets a slice of the biggest app to launch this side of Angry Birds, but because before you can even begin to “catch ‘em all”, users have to log in through their Google account. At first, part of the permissions users had to give when setting up an account, was to allow Google to look into their soul (or something like that). This has since been reduced to account level permissions, however there is still a good chunk of data being tracked. For the sake of a balanced viewpoint, it’s important to state that the permissions required are no more than any other permission-based app. The only difference is that you can’t use this app unless you have signed into Google. So, basically, Google now has 7.5 million users (and growing) walking the streets at all hours of the day, sending back user data, location data, interest data and more. This data is not only relative to their mobile usage habits, but also relative to their location. It’s kind of a big deal.

My thoughts on this are that if Google doesn’t use all of this data to beef up its advertising targeting engine, they’re missing a huge opportunity. I’m sure they will be because Google is sure to be ten steps ahead of me on this.

The wider impact of the success of this app remains to be seen. However, for the first time, augmented reality is mainstream. Not only that, but people are inadvertently exercising without having subscribed to fitness apps. Folks are meeting up all over the world to explore the backstreets and remote areas of their cities with strangers who share a common (virtual) interest. Ok, it’s getting creepy, I know.

Whichever way you look at it, the impact is huge. It’s all pretty exciting stuff.

 

Dave Mooney is a Digital Strategist at BCM

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