Why the watch industry should be very afraid of Pokemon

Two of my three kids (aged 17 and 25) play Pokemon Go. So does my wife (age withheld). My son’s teachers ask him for tips. My walk to work in London is a dodgem of avoiding Pokemon Go zombies searching for the nearest Pokestop.

Right now, as you are reading this piece, Pokemon Go is being used by more people on their smartphones than Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagam.

By the time you have finished this article, the app will have been downloaded another 20,000 times. You can watch how fast this thing is growing in real time here.

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Right now, this growth is being achieved despite it being available in only the US, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the UK, and Italy. It will roll out to 200 more countries and regions “relatively soon” according to its developer Niantic.

I won’t bother you any further on the statistics. The BBC has had a good look at them here.

Nor will I explain exactly how the game works, but I will give a brief description, because this is the bit that the watch industry needs to fear.

Pokemon Go works on smartphones, with users walking around towns, cities and the countryside searching for Pokememon to catch. These Japanese monsters appear in an augmented reality world so that, with your smartphone camera turned on and Google Maps tracking your exact location via GPS, the monsters appear in your house, office, near your favourite shop … in fact, absolutely anywhere. The stated aim for Pokemon hunters is to travel around because they’ve “Gotta CatchEm All”.

My kids and all their friends are hooked. But the thing they all want is for Pokemon Go to be launched as a smartwatch app.

Rather than walking the streets staring at smartphone screens while cars and cyclists slam on their brakes to avoid killing them, Pokemon Go users really need a simple (and safer) way to keep track of what Pokemon are in their vicinity, and then be guided towards them. This is the killer app that could ignite the smartwatch market.

The reality is that smartwatches have not caught fire yet because they don’t dramatically improve on what smartphones already do. Fitness trackers are their most popular apps, but once you’ve worked out that you walk the same distance almost every week and get the same amount of sleep, their utility diminishes.

Pokemon Go has the potential to change all that – very, very, fast.

pokemon-go-watchThe good news for watchmakers that wish smartwatches had never been invented is that there is no sign yet of a Pokemon Go smartwatch app. Also, Pokemon creator Nintendo has launched its own Pokemon Go wearable, so it might be hoping to cash in more on hardware than licensing its game for smartwatches.

My guess is somebody will make this happen.

The Swiss watch industry still bears the scars of the Japanese digital watch revolution that almost killed it in the 1970s. The threat this year could be just as menacing. It’s coming from Japan again, but this time in the form of the pocket monsters of Pokemon Go.

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