Notes from the Field: Pokémon GO!

The obligatory evidence of being accosted by Pokémon during everyday activities :-)

The obligatory evidence of being accosted by Pokémon during everyday activities 🙂

Those of you who know me, know that I am obsessed with Pokémon (it was even the theme of my Intro to CS class last semester). I’ve blogged about Pokémon before (1 & 2), but now that everybody has bought into my insanity, I feel the need to do it again. Of course, I’m talking about the mobile augmented reality game Pokémon GO!, which has taken the U.S. by storm over the last two weeks.

The general Internet rhetoric regarding the game is a bit extreme (of course): it will kill your children (maybe in the process of arresting them), after robbing them, and stealing all of their data! Or, it will turn your children into monsters who mock the Holocaust or stare at their phones instead of the real world! Also, it may get YOU sued (as a property owner), even if you don’t play it. On the other hand, it could improve people’s health, get them to go outside, make friends, and help them discover and fall in love with their own cities!

I want to share my experience. I’ve been conducting “participatory observation” since the day Pokémon GO! came out: I’ve been playing myself and I’ve been stopping people on the street who are playing and asking them questions. I’ve done this in two cities (4 days in Minneapolis, 4 days in Chicago). Based on this, there are a three points I want to add to the above narrative:

  1. It is probably not doing anything to your children. There may be children playing this game, but I haven’t met any (only anecdotally: one man I met said he DID see one child playing it). All the players I’ve met have been roughly in the 19-35 range. I’m currently doing fieldwork at a middle school and NONE of the children I work with play. My main two main hypotheses for this: the game was aimed at the nostalgia of the older audience (e.g., it only has 1st generation Pokémon), and American children are not allowed to be as independent as Japanese children in exploring outside.
  2. It’s more about spatial computing, than the AR or stepcounts. The augmented reality (AR) is exciting at first and can always be turned on to catch a good photo op, but most experienced players turn it off to make catching Pokémon easier. The step count intervention is actually only a small part of the game and nothing new for Pokémon. What IS new and integral to the game is that everything happens in physical space, on a real map that you must move through to have meaningful encounters. This is positive because it creates opportunities for encounters with strangers, gets you moving, and (most importantly for me) leads to a playful exploration known as a dérive. It is negative when it leads to car accident, arrests, injuries, trespasses, disrespectful behavior, and all the other problems mentioned at the beginning of this post. Do the potential benefits exceed the costs? Each player must decide for themselves.
  3. It is undeniably urban. My drive from Minneapolis to Chicago was a Pokémon desert, with very few spots along the way (though definitely enough quirky points of interest that could have qualified). This is because Pokémon GO! relies on user-generated geographic interest points (borrowed from the game Ingress). One big issue with that (pointed out by my colleagues in a recent publication) is that peer generated geographic data is significantly biased towards urban environments. So, while the download numbers may make it seem like the whole country is playing, it’s really just us city-dwellers.

And now, for a few predictions… (1) Most people will stop playing soon — it’s too repetitive and battery-draining and nostalgia can only get you so far; (2) if you buy a few of these devices when they become available, you will be able to turn a profit reselling them; and (3) Pokémon Sun and Moon will be the best selling Pokémon generation ever. I’ll check in a few months to see how many of these came true!

Have you been playing Pokémon GO!? What is your experience with it? Any stories that run counter to the points I’ve made above?

P.S. Team Mystic is the best team.

User Experiences That Changed Where I Spend My Money

Lots of people think about Human-Computer Interaction as something that just adds a thin veil of “prettiness” on top of existing services — something that you worry about once you have the novel tech working, if there’s time. But, actually HCI is about conceiving and creating a user experience. HCI can help you decide what you should actually build, not just how it should look. And that’s not just a veneer, it really changes what people do. I wanted to share four user experiences that changed where I spend my money.

Tracking my pizza? That's a game-changer right there!

Tracking my pizza? That’s a game-changer right there!

Domino’s online ordering system:  While taste-wise, Domino’s pizza is basically the same as Papa John’s or other competitors, their ordering interface keeps me coming back again and again. I love being able to see the stage of my pizza’s creation, I love being able to see the name of the person working on my pie, and I LOVE being able to send an encouragement to the team like “You are my pizza heroes!” Honestly, I don’t even know if they see those, but just the experience of being able to think about my pizza-providers as real people with names and motivations changes my relationship to my pizza!

Dropbox helps me "cloudify"  other programs and removes the step of uploading the most recent copy of my CV.

Dropbox helps me “cloudify” other programs and removes the step of uploading the most recent copy of my CV.

Dropbox: Dropbox was the original cloud-storage service that worked right inside my file system. There are so many things I love about this approach. First of all, because I can now just put any program folder into the Dropbox hierarchy, I can easily “cloudify” all sorts of programs such as my Zotero library and my Eclipse workspace. Many of these now provide their own storage options, but it’s so much easier to just use one service for all of my storage needs! Also, I love the “public folder” that lets me have public links to certain documents. I keep my CV there so I get to skip the step of uploading it to this page every time something changes. Now, other services, like Google Drive provide similar applications and ways of interacting with my data, but Dropbox was the original, so they still have my loyalty and moneys.

amazonprime_hybrid._V164021527_ Amazon Prime: provides free 2-day shipping and online content for an annual fee. I’m usually very resistant to anything that has a recurring fee, but I gave in to Amazon Prime because I order enough stuff online for work alone to make it worthwhile. Now, I’m finding myself buying things online that I’ve never bought before. Tahini for my homemade hummus? Easier to find online than in the store. The latest season of Downton Abbey? Well, since I saw the last two seasons for free on Prime and I REALLY need to know what happens next… The combination of the UX idea of 1-Click shopping (okay, I agree that it’s not really a fair thing for them to patent, but it’s still a good idea) and the business idea of free online content / free shipping really changed how and what I buy online.

imagesDepositing checks through a mobile phone: The first bank to offer online check deposits was USAA, but many others soon followed. Today, it is simply a non-negotiable banking need for me. I will not bank with any bank that doesn’t let me do that. PayPal is particularly a leader in online handling of money, supporting easy transfer of money between individuals (say, to pay my share of the rent), depositing checks online, and paying for just about anything. Since I don’t actually pay them for these services, they don’t fit with the theme of this blog. But, I bank with Ally and ING specifically because both of them support online deposits and that IS a way that the experience of being able to deposit checks through my phone has changed where I put my money.

What all of these transformative user experiences share in common is that they’re not about “usability” or color of the buttons or layout of the page or anything else that can be A/B tested. They are about combining common technological capabilities (none of these are cutting-edge technology) and good business practices in a way that supports me in how I already do thing (Dropbox, Mobile Check Deposit) and how I don’t even know yet I want to be doing things (Amazon Prime, Domino’s Pizza). And that’s what HCI is actually all about, whether in your company it goes by the name of design, marketing, or UX.

Making the Switch

My new phone is pretty sweet!

Recently, I won a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone in an AT&T company raffle. After the initial surprise of “I never win these things!” wore off, I had a choice to make. Up until now, I’ve had an iPhone 4 and I was thinking of upgrading to 5 around Christmas, but this presented a whole new option. On one hand, there are a lot of things I don’t like about Apple business practices. On the other hand, I was worried about having to repurchase all of my apps, accessories, etc. The final decision was made by my feet — after Apple Maps gave me walking directions that suggested that I walk along a major highway, down two dark alleyways, and scale a cliff to get to a destination. So, I made the switch and I wanted to share my experience here.

Things that I like about the S3 (other than navigation and developing for it, which pretty much everybody likes better on Android):

  • Swype typing lets me draw the words on the screen. I can actually effectively answer my emails on the phone now.
  • NFC means that I can easily share data with other NFC phones just by touching them, but also I’ve been experimenting with NFC tag stickers that you can use to program phone behavior. For example, when I touch my phone to an NFC tag near my home’s entrance, it connects to my WiFi, turns off my 3G, and checks me into my house on FourSquare. The things I can control are still fairly limited, but I can see a lot of potential for this in the future.
  • Large and wide screen means that I can now comfortably read and (more importantly to me) draw on the screen with a stylus. Is it too big? Well, phones were already too big for my jeans, so even though it’s bigger, there is no change in my practices. I still have to put it in my jacket pocket or backpack most of the time.
  • Desktop widgets and shortcuts. I like not having to open an app to start my music, check something off my todo list, or check my calendar. I like that I can just have a shortcut to the Google Spreadsheet that I use for my Happiness Project, instead of always having to go through the list of my docs.
  • Finally being free from iTunes and iPhoto! Now I can just transfer the music that I want on the phone or the photos I want off the phone with AirDroid, which is great!
  • Google Marketplace is better than the Apple App Store because you can try an app for a bit and then return it for a refund if you didn’t like it. I frequently buy apps to see what they are like or to take a screenshot of some aspect of it, so this is probably going to pay for the entire cost of the transition in about a year.

Things that I don’t like:

  • EpicWin my favorite gamified to-do list app is not available for Android. Woe is me! Astrid is pretty good as a to-do list, but I really want to get points for doing stuff.

So, in terms of my user experience, the transition was worth it, but it definitely cost a bit in terms of replacing apps and accessories:

  • Stuff I would need anyway for a new phone (protective case and an anti-glare screen protector): $18
  • Repurchasing stuff I already had (apps, a dock for my bedside, car charger): $45
  • Things that I didn’t need with the iPhone that I want now (NFC tags, stylus, new apps, car mount): $70

So, if you’re thinking about switching, those costs are definitely something to figure into the decision. Have any of you recently switched your phone? What prompted the switch and what was the experience like?