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Pokémon Go is a roaring success — so why did Google spin off the company that developed it?

Pokémon Go is officially a smash hit. Nintendo’s stock has risen an eye-watering 54% since the title launched. Early fears that the game demanded access to iOS accounts have been resolved, and while we’ve seen some significant hiccups related to the game’s spiking popularity — robberies, a few accidents, and the Holocaust Museum’s request that players please not treat the facility like a gaming locale all made the news of late — it’s clear that the game is introducing huge numbers of people to augmented reality, and motivating more than a few to exercise. Its developer, Niantic, has just vaulted from its position as a young company with a modestly successful mobile AR game (Ingress) to a behemoth of online gaming.

Google spun Niantic off when it restructured to become Alphabet — a decision that might have left company executives kicking themselves now that Niantic and Pokémon Go are an overnight sensation. However, Niantic’s independence was probably critical to landing a contract with Nintendo in the first place, according to Business Insider. John Hanke, Niantic’s CEO, told BI that Niantic was bumping up against Google’s desire to provide a neutral framework for many different developers and applications rather than favoring one specific company. Instead of licensing Pokémon to the search giant, Nintendo, the Pokémon Company, and Google all participated in an investment round to fund Niantic to build and launch the game.

Spinning Niantic off may have been key to catching the Nintendo license in the first place, but it’s hard to look at Pokémon Go and not see tantalizing visions of how it might be integrated into Microsoft’s HoloLens or even the much-maligned Google Glass. While Glass didn’t specifically require smartphone pairing to function, it could share a data connection with an Android or iOS device.

Google Glass + Pokémon Go as a launch app could’ve changed the entire conversation around the device. True, some users would’ve still had privacy concerns, and you wouldn’t have seen too many kids running around with a $1,500 face computer. But a killer application can define a product in ways that insulate it from criticism. When Microsoft launched the Xbox One, it failed to articulate a compelling reason why anyone should buy or want a Kinect 2. Suddenly, the privacy and security implications of the second-generation Kinect were front-and-center in a way that might never have happened if Microsoft had been able to point to a wide software library and compelling gameplay uses. Hand people an expensive product that can be abused, with no clear messaging on why people should want to use it, and people tend to look for reasons why they shouldn’t want it.

With Glass on hiatus and HoloLens priced as a developer-only tool, we won’t see any headsets integrating with Pokémon Go in the near future. Longer term, it’s easy to see how games like this could change the nature of how we interact with devices. Hanke says that the team’s goal with Pokémon Go was to get people exercising, encourage them to explore their own hometowns and surroundings, and break the ice between people who meet up for the purpose of playing the game. So far, the game is succeeding on all three fronts, even if it’s caused some unintended consequences along the way.

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