While the buzz around Pokémon Go has settled down since we last discussed it, the popular app has reared its head in the press once again with news that it would be coming to the Apple Watch.
While Apple were dominating the tech coverage with the release of the 7th iteration of the epoch defining iPhone, Niantic, the business responsible for Pokémon’s resurgence issued a press release which illustrates the extent to which the virtual world of Pokémon is coming to dictate the real lives of people across the globe. The release states that the app has been downloaded more than 500 million times in over 100 countries, but as someone who has been tracking their movements while running through my smartphone for years, what really grabbed my attention was the sheer distance that has been covered in search of these creatures.
In the 8 weeks that the app has been available for download, players around the world have collectively walked 4.6 billion kilometres, or 2.9 billion miles.
To put this into an athletic perspective, if he could sustain his world record marathon pace, it would take Dennis Kimetto of Kenya over 24,000 years to run this distance.
Smartphone apps that use GPS to monitor running performance – distance covered, pace, and progression over time – are almost as old as smartphones themselves, and while they certainly serve to augment the realities of those who already run or cycle, they cannot lay claim to having started the sort of global movement sparked by Pokémon Go.
The role of effort in relation to reward is important here. Those who play Pokémon Go regularly (especially those who are walking with the specific purpose of catching Pokémon) clearly value the capture of a Pokémon as worthy of their effort. The ability to go for a walk to catch a Pokémon is new, only available due to the technological advances in GPS, smartphones and augmented reality. The rewards associated with running on the other hand are relatively well-worn; the attainment of goals, improvement of health and the fabled runners’ high; smartphones and GPS services allow us to monitor our health, and record our achievement, but until the rewards are there and are perceived as such, it may be a while before the virtual world of running is enthralling enough to get non-runners off the sofa.
However, compelling rewards may be on the way.
Improved biometric testing means that it won’t be long before our health – our exercise habits, what we eat, and the risk involved in doing, or not doing certain forms of exercise – will be easily monitored by insurance companies seeking to make better judgements on the risk of offering a variety of insurances. Rather than being asked “Do you smoke?”, you may be asked to submit the telemetric data from your smartphone, and rewarded – or punished – for your health habits through better premiums.
For those looking for an instant fix, a new form of running-reward has emerged in the form of Running Heroes. Much in the way Pokémon Go introduced a previously unprecedented reward in the ability to catch Pokémon in the physicality of towns and cities, Running Heroes allows you to achieve more than simply the measurement of performance. By monetising it and pairing with companies such as Nike, Uber and Le Pain Quotidien to offer rewards – in the form of vouchers, discounts and competition entries – there’s now a whole new incentive for getting active.
Pokémon Go might not be your cup of tea, but if you’re someone who exercises to justify unhealthy dietary choices, you may as well earn discounts on your buttery croissant as you go.