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What Manufacturers Can Learn from Pokémon GO

Posted on July 20th, 2016 by in New Materials & Applications

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By OyundariZorigtbaatar [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes “breakthrough innovation” doesn’t require starting from scratch, but it does require starting anew.

Until this past weekend, Pokémon GO was just the latest technology phenomenon to me. Other than the news on-line and the buzz humming on social media, the majority of my circle were unaffected. While on our nightly walk through our suburban neighborhood however, my wife and I came across several groups of people on the hunt to “catch them all”. Families we knew lived in the neighborhood were out walking the streets with their kids following their smartphones to the next Pokébattle.

While it was great to physically see more people in the neighborhood, as an engineer I wondered what was so new, different, or compelling about Pokémon Go to create such a compelling product? Reports from agencies such as Forbes show a doubling of Nintendo’s market cap – the maker of Pokémon GO. Likewise, the Verge is also reporting of the business success of Ninteno’s latest move and how the game is driving profitability for affiliate companies like McDonald’s. It’s certainly been a great business move for Nintendo.

But what about the product itself? Other than capitalizing on technological advancements in augmented reality – and the pervasiveness of smartphones – the premise of the game is the same as when it was introduced in 1998: Collect a series of cartoon “pocket monsters”. To achieve “Pokémon Master” status, you need only accomplish the game’s mantra, “You gotta catch ’em all.”

Since augmented reality has been around for many years, it can’t strictly be the driving force behind Nintendo’s success. What I believe Nintendo did well – and what all manufacturers can likewise do – is think functionally rather than incrementally. Instead of concentrating on the components – more characters, better electronics, etc. – they focused on the function or outcome to achieve. Done this way, there are more avenues or possibilities for innovation. For example, thinking functionally a pump manufacturer may contemplate “transferring a viscous fluid containing containments” rather than “filtering grit from oil”. Filtering already implies an approach and it may turn out that an innovative alternative could provide a better, cheaper, or more efficient method. Here’s a fascinating example of thinking functionally about augmented reality from the good folks over at TED:

And if you have another 6 minutes, head over to YouTube to temper your augmented reality enthusiasm with a look at what hyper-reality could mean in this video produced by Keiichi Matsuda.

There’s no doubt that Nintendo has struck a timely chord with it’s loyal fan base and found an innovative way to make the Pokémon franchise once again relevant. Thinking functionally, any product company can unbound their brainstorming giving them the freedom to explore new, innovative concepts they may not have otherwise considered. Sometimes, the best idea is a 2.0 rather than a 1.0. As for the Pokémon franchise, this may be more like 8.0. Now get outside and go “catch ’em all”.

What are your thoughts on augmented reality or other man-machine interfaces? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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