How the ‘Pokemon Go’ app’s underlying technology makes it more than just a fad

By Karin Kelley, on


If you live in the US, Australia or New Zealand, you’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard about “Pokemon Go,” the hottest new mobile gaming app. According to a real-time app download tracker from AppInstitute, “Pokemon Go” has been racking up hundreds of thousands of downloads in mere minutes.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the game, players travel around real-world neighborhoods and iconic locations to find and capture virtual animated creatures that are superimposed into those locales using smartphone cameras and augmented reality. Once you’ve collected some Pokemon, you can then evolve them into rarer forms, join one of the game’s three teams and test your Pokemon’s strength in battle.

Pokemon has been a popular game for many years, though, so how exactly does “Pokemon Go” take users to the next level? And, what factors are making it such a wild success?

How does it work?

At a basic level, “Pokemon Go” uses a combination of GPS, augmented reality and the camera and clock on a mobile device to operate. There are not many details available about the algorithms behind the Niantic Labs technology, but the game was built on cached location data that was gathered from another game called Ingress.

Using Google Maps, Ingress created a massive database of real-world objects largely generated by users. As users physically navigate the outside world, “Pokemon Go” uses a combination of these data sets and real-time location information to determine where and when a Pokemon will appear on the screen. The game also uses the device’s accelerometer and compass to determine in which direction the user is heading.

It gets even more sophisticated than that, though. The app correlates environmental characteristics with characters — desert, coastal, forest and so on — to engage users and contextualize the physical and virtual experience. The game also taps into the clocks on smartphones to provide users with nocturnal Pokemon when a user is hunting at night.

What does this phenomenon mean for businesses?

Though “Pokemon Go” is just a game many people would pass off as a fad, the technology behind it will ultimately have a huge impact on businesses as it evolves and is perfected. Augmented reality, or the use of technology to superimpose graphics onto a physical environment, has great potential for many more industries beyond gaming.

For example, firefighters with AR-enabled helmets might be able to find people in distress more easily or be informed of the temperature of the walls in a burning structure to develop a sound rescue strategy on demand. Workers equipped with AR headsets in manufacturing or healthcare can also receive instructions on how to complete the technical task at hand, enabling higher productivity and less human error.

Though it may seem like the Pokemon app trend simply resulted in hoards of gamers walking around the streets in search of virtual monsters, the technology behind this game will likely have a bigger impact on many industries when it comes to mobile app development. Even though the game has broken iOS and Android records, there are many issues, including server crashes, that still need to be ironed out before the technology is reliable enough for more critical applications and scenarios.

Image source: Flickr

About The Author

Karin Kelley

Independent Analyst & Writer

Karin is an independent industry analyst and writer, with over 10 years experience in information technology. She focuses on cloud infrastructure, hosted applications and services, end user computing and related systems management software and services. She spent nearly eight years at 451 Research, where she spearheaded coverage on emerging desktops-as-a-service (DaaS) markets. She has extensive expertise in enterprise infrastructure software and services, as well as a deep understanding of SMB, MSP and hosting markets.

Articles by Karin Kelley
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