Sorry, Pokemon Go isn't the Apple Watch killer app

Though Pokemon Go on the Apple Watch is a nice surprise, people aren't going to run out and buy a watch just for this game.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
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Despite Pokemon Go's wild success on phones, the app likely won't have the same results on the Apple Watch.

Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

The Apple Watch wants to be the very best, winning over users like no other wearable -- but the Pokemon Go app won't help the smartwatch catch 'em all.

The smartwatch counterpart to the blockbuster mobile game marked one of the rare surprises Wednesday at Apple's big event, which primarily served as a stage for the debut of the iPhone 7, Apple Watch Series 2 and wireless AirPods earphones.

At first blush, it seems like a slam dunk to team the Apple Watch with Pokemon Go, which on Thursday became the fastest game to reach $500 million in revenue. The game involves catching digital "pocket monsters" on your phone, so having them appear on your watch as an alert makes a lot of sense.

But Pokemon Go, developed by Niantic Labs, isn't going to be the killer app that gets everyone jumping on the Apple Watch bandwagon. As it has been on the phone, the app could be a battery killer on the watch. There's also the concern that Pokemon Go fever is fading. Though it's a nice addition, no one is going to buy an Apple Watch expressly to play this game.

"I've never had anyone lament to me that they were pissed they couldn't play Pokemon Go on their Apple Watch," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.

Not that Pokemon Go's success can be denied. The game, which launched July 6, in just four days surged to the top of the US App Store's chart of most-downloaded free apps. The goal behind the augmented-reality game is to find Pokemon characters using your phone's GPS and to catch them with virtual Pokeballs -- a lure that could potentially earn $3 billion for Apple within the next year.

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In the WatchOS version, players will also be able to use the watch's fitness tracker to walk around and hatch eggs, visit PokeStops and encounter Pokemon -- though you still have to catch them using your phone.

Battery life is a concern, according to Jackdaw Research analyst Jan Dawson. The game uses your phone's camera, data and GPS at the same time, which drains power at an impressive rate. It's unclear how that will affect Apple Watch, since the wearable will have to constantly talk to your iPhone.

"Given its impact on battery life on phones, I suspect that heavy use would hit the Apple Watch hard," Dawson said.

Even having the full game on the wearable wouldn't make much of a difference. Games won't be the launching pad Apple needs for its smartwatch, according to Pachter. The screen would be too small for any enjoyable experience, he said.

Still, it says something that during the Apple Watch portion of Wednesday's event, Niantic CEO John Hanke's presentation was the only segment that showed off the watch's features outside of fitness. Until the Pokemon Go news, the Apple Watch 2 was all about athletes, with water resistance for swimmers and a Nike+ edition designed for runners.

If Apple wants its watch on more wrists, it'll have to move beyond its athletic audience, said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. That means giving the Apple Watch the power to control other smart objects around the house.

"Apple did not really come up with a clear notion of what's going to drive mainstream adoption beyond fitness and style," Greengart said.