In the tech world, there’s a concept called the “killer app.” The idea behind a killer app is that it’s so good, it proves that the larger concept behind the app is valuable.
Once a killer app emerges, the technology it runs on becomes ubiquitous. Smartphones and smartphone-like personal assistants existed before the iPhone, but the iPhone became the smartphone’s killer app. The usefulness of email made the internet ubiquitous. The Apple Watch and Samsung Gear haven’t found their killer apps yet, which is why smartwatches aren’t everywhere, even if they’re popular.
Pokémon Go is augmented reality’s killer app. Augmented reality is technology in which people interact with the real world through computer-generated elements. In Pokémon Go, players interact with elements in the game — Pokestops, Pokémon gyms, and Pokémon — on their phone, based on where they are in real life.
There have been augmented reality apps before Pokémon Go. The structure of Pokémon Go itself is based on an augmented reality game called Ingress, developed by Niantic, Inc. But while Ingress was technologically impressive and had a small, hardcore userbase, it never quite took off.
Pokémon Go, on the other hand, has been in the United States for a week and it’s already passed Tinder and possibly Twitter in popularity. You can chalk up its success to the Pokémon brand, but it’s suddenly everywhere, and that means augmented reality is everywhere. The game is a proof-of-concept for the technology.
The viability of augmented reality will open new doors. Pokémon Go is just the first major smartphone game to use it; it won’t be the last. While Google Glasses wasn’t the success Google wanted it to be, it’s easy to imagine how useful smartglasses would be with Pokémon Go or any augmented reality game. From now on, we will forever wonder about the digital layers of reality around us, viewable only with the aid of technology. “Is there a Pokémon on my face?” is a new mode of existence.
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