ONLY readers living under a rock for the past two months will be unaware of Pokémon Go. The smartphone game, which overlays augmented-reality onto real-world locations, has been downloaded some 100m times on Google Play alone. Players hunt for their favourite characters at “Pokéstops” and send them into gladiatorial battle in “Pokégyms”. Some Pokémon are only found in certain parts of the world. As a result any player dedicated to the game’s mantra of “Gotta catch them all” needs to travel.
This has made the travel and hospitality industry sit up and take note. Without warning, a host of businesses and landmarks have found themselves swarming with eager gamers staring at iPhones. Initially, bars and cafes lucky enough to be assigned as Pokéstops paid for “lures”, a feature of the game that allows them to attract more Pokémon (and therefore players). Now the travel industry has ramped things up and Pokémon tourism is the fad. Cities are selling themselves based on the concentration of Pokéstops and Pokégyms they have. Guided tours have sprung up to allow tourists to hunt rare monsters. Hotels are promoting themselves by claiming guests do not even need to get out of bed to catch a passing Bulbasaur. Gamers, it seems, are even adapting their travel plans to accommodate gameplay.
This may seem irrelevant to business travellers, unless they (or their children) are excited by the prospect of picking up some new Pokémon on a foreign trip. But some commentators feel that business travel itself should adopt the type of functionality that the game showcases.
Pokémon Go combines gamification, geomapping and augmented reality in ways that could ultimately aid road warriors. That it has designated so many-real world locations as virtual ones is significant. Players who use the game when travelling are not only collecting items within the game, but are also physically visiting and interacting with actual places. This is not new. Those with long memories will remember the attempts made by foursquare to gamify locational tagging, by allowing people to become mayors of places to which they checked-in. Those with even longer memories may even remember the excitement caused by augmented-reality apps like Layar, which allowed people to see the names of businesses and sights virtually overlaid onto phone screens. But neither innovation has had a fraction of the impact that Pokémon Go achieved in just a few weeks. While the game itself may be little more than a fad (albeit a big one) it might give impetus to more useful apps that allow travellers to interact.
On example might be a virtual travel assistant. It could use your location, calendar and AR overlays to guide you around a city from meeting to meeting, ensuring that you get to the right place at the right time and with the information you need to be productive. All of this could be displayed on a screen using many of the same tools that underpin Pokémon Go. Social networks, too, could be enhanced to allow travellers to see what is being said about the places they visit, just by pointing a phone at it. That could open up new opportunities to network or share information on the road.
This comes with caveats. Many attempts at such innovation have already been made. Google Glass is the most notable among the failed attempts to revolutionise how people interact with the world around them. Still, Pokémon Go has proved there is a market for such AR apps, although its success seems to have come by stripping out the useful aspects of AR and simply making a game of it. Either way, in the future, it seems even more of us will be walking the streets staring at our phones.
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