Welcome to This Week in Modern Software, or TWiMS, our weekly analysis of the most interesting and important news, stories, and events in the world of modern software and analytics.
This week we investigate the Pokémon Go phenomenon, which totally dominated the tech conversation this week, pushing everything else into the background.
TWiMS Top Story:
Pokémon Go Brings Augmented Reality to a Mass Audience—The New York Times
What it’s about: You could not have missed this story even if you spent the week living under a rock. That’s because droves of strangers would have come poking at that rock, wielding smartphones on the great hunt for wild Pokémon. Yep, we’re talking—like just nearly everyone else this week—about Pokémon Go, the mobile app that’s sent hordes of people wandering around their streets, parks, and just about everywhere else in search of Pokémon in the, um, real world. The game is augmented reality’s (AR) first smash hit. The free download quickly shot to the top of the Apple App Store and Google Play, and SurveyMonkey Intelligence declared it the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. The game-play environment extends far beyond the screen of your iPhone or Android device to the actual physical world. As you move around, Pokémon “appear” based on your phone’s GPS and clock; players capture Pokémon by tapping their screen to throw a Poké Ball at it. (And there’s plenty more to do, too.) While the game itself is remarkably simple, its larger implications are anything but.
Why you should care: Pokémon Go may seem like a silly fad, but it’s actually a very big deal for several reasons:
- Augmented reality has its landmark moment. As Tech.pinions’ Bob O’Donnell argues, Pokémon Go is not the first in AR and it’s not even the best: “But, there is no question that the incredible success of the Pokémon Go game is an absolute watershed moment for augmented reality.” It’s a legitimizing milestone. Lest ye doubt the whopping success story here, Nintendo gained around $7.5 billion in market value in just two days as Pokémania exploded. (Gizmodo notes that Google spinoff Niantic probably deserves more credit, as it developed the game.) O’Donnell also notes the colossal importance of this moment for the future of AR and VR: “Augmented reality and virtual reality are technologies that are very difficult to explain to people who haven’t had the chance to actually try them. Many tech industry insiders seem to be glossing over this as a non-issue, but for these technologies to really go mainstream at any time in the future, [Pokémon Go] is exactly what needed to happen.”
- AR suddenly seems cooler than VR. Virtual reality always seemed to have more cool points than AR—it was supposed to bridge the (wide) gap between our mundane realities and most thrilling fantasies. Pokémon Go is challenging that assumption. Why? Because it’s inherently social, in ways that supposedly connected games like Words With Friends or platforms like Xbox Live simply aren’t. Pokémon Go literally forces players out into the world. Yeah, those people are still staring at a screen, but they’re bumping into other people (and trees, and cars, and so on) while they do. Ninja Metrics president Dmitri Williams tells The Los Angeles Times: “Virtual reality is a fun, vibrant niche that will never be mainstream, whereas augmented reality will absolutely be mainstream. The reason is VR separates you from people, while AR augments your interactions with people.”
- At least people are getting outside. Maybe the world doesn’t need another digital addiction. But at least this one is getting people to exercise. Really, it’s true; you can even amp up your fitness level with the Pokémon Go Interval Workout. (We’re not making this stuff up!) An animal shelter in Muncie, Indiana, is soliciting Pokémon Go players to walk its resident dogs while they chase Pokémon. And since you’ll be getting in better shape, you might be happy to know that Pokémon Go can help you on the dating front, too.
- We need to start thinking more seriously about the risks. Pokémon Go embodies the new risks that come with the ever-blurring lines between our digital and physical worlds. Starting at the innocuous end of the spectrum, this might mean nuisances like drained smartphone batteries to slightly higher stakes like crashed servers. But it gets worse: Pokémon Go has already been used to set up burglaries and assaults and Pokémon Go players are crashing their cars and falling off cliffs. Private homes have become very public Pokémon spots without the owner’s permission. (Check out The Hollywood Reporter’s roundup of 11 real-life hazards for more unintended consequences.) There are all sorts of social and cultural questions worth asking, too. Is it OK to play Pokémon Go in a museum? (The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., says absolutely not.) A place of worship? (Congregation Emanu-el in San Francisco sent out emails advising worshipers they could play Pokémon Go on their way into services.) And who knows what will happen when school starts in the fall?
- The best (and probably worst) is yet to come. The craziest thing about Pokémania is that it’s just a starting point. AR will only get more sophisticated, as the imminent launch of Magic Leap portends. In the meantime, happy hunting.
- Pokémon Go Explained in 400 Words or Less—Vox
- ‘Pokémon Go’ Shows Augmented Reality’s Edge Over Full-On Virtual Reality—The Los Angeles Times
- Pokémon Go Will Make You Crave Augmented Reality—The New Yorker
- ‘Pokémon Go’ May Prove That AR Is More Mainstream Than VR—Fast Company
- Nintendo Leaps 25% on Pokémon Go but the Hurdle to Killer Profits Is High—CNBC
- The Ultimate Guide to Pokémon Go—Quartz
- All Around the World, Authorities Are Worrying About Pokémon Go—The Washington Post
- Pokémon Go: 11 Real-World Hazards of the Catch ’Em All Craze—The Hollywood Reporter
- Poké-Blotter: The Latest Crimes and Catastrophes to Hit ‘Pokémon Go’ Players—Forbes
- Pokémon Go Makes Driving a Lot More Dangerous—Jalopnik
- Pokémon Go Could Crash and Burn This Way—CNET
- Bye, Tinder: Pokémon Go Is Accidently the Best New Dating App Ever—EOnline
- Magic Leap’s Next-Gen AR Is About to Become a Reality—TechRadar
- Pokémon Go Users Say They’re Exercising More Because of the App—Pokémon Go
- Four NYPD Cops Are Under Investigation for Apparently Playing Pokémon Go On-Duty—Gawker
- Pokémon Go Just Redeemed Google Glass’ Failure to Launch Augmented Reality—Network World
Pokémon Go wasn’t the only important story in tech and software this week—it just seemed that way. Don’t miss these other updates from the world of modern software:
It’s a rarity in the security headlines: good news! New research from security firm Enigma Software suggests we might finally be wising up online, as malware infections are actually way down in the first half of 2016 compared with the first half of 2015. But the good news is tempered by a bit of bad: ransomware continues to proliferate. Still, despite the endless parade of security horror stories and dire warnings, things may not be as awful as they seem.
- Why Lawmakers Are Trying to Make Ransomware a Crime in California—Los Angeles Times
- July 2016 Patch Tuesday Is More About Adobe Reader Bugs Than Microsoft—TechTarget
- Chinese Hackers Blamed for Multiple Breaches at U.S. Banking Agency—Computerworld
As cloud platforms and services continue their inexorable march into the enterprise, InfoWorld’s J. Peter Bruzzese notes that migration issues are starting to take a backseat to a longer-term challenge: how to manage and monitor everything in the cloud.
The UX Secret That Will Ruin Apps for You—Fast Company
Web and app performance is not always what it seems, and faster isn’t always better. Here’s a dirty little UX secret used by the likes of Facebook, Wells Fargo, and others: Sometimes apparently slower load times, from a few extra seconds to much longer, occur by design rather than errors or necessity. Fast Company’s Mark Wilson unveils the psychological reasons why they do it. After reading this, you’ll always wonder whether a slow-loading app works that way on purpose!
The Register’s Mark Pesce returns from a recent visit to China with a revelation about how we use smartphones in the western world—we just don’t get it. Exhibit A: QR codes and how we’re doing it all wrong. Fascinating insight into how to truly maximize the value of mobile technology.
Toward a Smarter Software Future—Tech.pinions
In spite of rapid-fire technology change, our devices and apps have remained rather dumb to date. But with recent advances in machine learning and related areas, Tech.pinions’ Ben Bajarin focuses on the difference between “communal machine learning” and “individual machine learning” and the importance of domain expertise. Bottom line: our software might finally be getting smarter so we won’t have to spend as much time and effort telling it what to do.
You can now read the source code for the command and lunar modules in the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer—you know, the one that helped us land on the moon for the first time—on GitHub. Slate developer (and self-proclaimed failed astronaut) Paul Smith couldn’t resist diving in, and found an irresistible mix of coding history, rocket-scientist humor, and good, old-fashioned human error. A fun, nerdy read for the weekend—once you tire of lobbing Poké Balls around your neighborhood.
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