Pokemon Go needs to stop taking over my phone

Commentary: If Pokemon Go is a view of an AR future we'll all be living in, it can't be so needy. Or can it?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

I checked the status of my egg. My one egg. Incubating, and only 1.1 km out of 2...even after a full day of walking.

Oh, you have to keep the app on?

Welcome to the single-tasking world of Pokemon Go. If there's one thing that bugs me more than anything else about the phenomenon that's Pokemon Go, it's this: you have to keep the app on and loaded if you want to play. And if that's the future of AR gaming, I see a problem brewing.

I'm a multitasker. A background-tasker. I sometimes have two smartwatches on at a time. I'm used to tracking steps in the background. We manage notifications...preferably, to keep them bubbling just under the surface, so we don't get too annoyed.

Humans of Pokemon Go

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Pokemon Go is a single-tasker. It's needy. It gets launched, uses GPS, and becomes the center of your phone's attention. You need it on to incubate your precious eggs. You need it on to find Pokemon. You need it on, and you need to stare at it. Hence the people looking distracted, as if they might suddenly crash into a bus.

Pokemon Go doesn't want you to drive. Or, go fast. It wants you to walk, dedicate all your time to it. It won't let you know things when it isn't launched. I don't get notifications of nearby actions I might miss out on, like I'm used to with other location-aware apps. I don't get pinged. It's open, or it's not.

I expected a pervasive, background level of Pokemon Go, one that isn't here.

Watch this: A crash course in Pokemon Go

Wouldn't it make sense to have Go work as something that percolated in the background, offering a level of information throughout the day? So I wouldn't have to keep launching it? I still haven't hatched that egg, even though I've walked a lot more than 2 km.

Something like that might be on its way. Nintendo is selling its own little wearable soon enough: Pokemon Go Plus, a $35 wrist-thing that will act as, maybe, exactly that type of background-notifier I was looking for. Something that buzzes, and glows, and lets you know about nearby Pokemon and Pokestops without me pulling out my phone.

I guess that's what I was looking for. Because, right now, Pokemon Go is too demanding of my time. I can't keep staring it every minute. I have books I want to read, email I want to check. Life I want to live. And Go's drain on my battery is so intense that I end up having to decide: play, or have phone for my commute? I end up picking the latter.

Life in the smartwatch age has been about keeping interruptions managed...or, nested. I review wearables. I need things hooked in. I can't run all my apps on the surface of my phone at once. And wearables, thank goodness, seem to understand this issue. Lots of the wearable world is about getting things to run in conjunction with other things. So I can live my life and still use, say, an Apple Watch. Or a Fitbit.

When I think of augmented reality, I think of real life and a virtual one dovetailing. Pokemon and friends, living happily together. Can such a dovetailing really happen, or are we going to end up with apps like Go which really are just made to absorb you fully, and bring you into a completely enclosed network?

In that sense, Pokemon Go feels more like virtual reality than anything wearable or AR. It is something I slip on, sink into completely. Yes, there are real people around me I can meet. Yes, it's a social, public game. But it's also a very tightly-knit world. One I'm either engaged in, or not. What makes Pokemon Go augmented, for me, isn't the way you see Pokemon on your screen...it's the way real-life places become hotspots for gaming. And I can't tap into that at all when the screen is off. Yet.

I wish I could incubate my little egg all day long, using the pedometer on my phone. Maybe that's all I'm looking for. I need something gently always on, not intensely on. And if I'm dreaming of a world filled with augmented things and experiences...I don't want one to take over my field of view entirely, like Pokemon Go currently does.