Why Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg All Love Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go
Courtesy of Niantic

This week, mobile game sensation Pokemon Go got some love from high places: Apple CEO Tim Cook, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg all mentioned the game during their company’s respective earnings calls.

For these execs, name-checking Pokemon Go was in part an attempt to look current and relevant — which went hilariously wrong for Cook, who repeatedly referred to it as “Pokeman.” But each of them also has some very serious reasons to be excited about the game’s success.

Let’s start with Cook, who cemented his image as a slightly aged dad-type with his Pokeman flap during Apple’s earnings call Tuesday. “It’s incredible what has happened there,” Cook said about the rise of Pokemon Go.

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He went on to praise the game as a success of Apple’s developer platform, for a reason: Apple has been profiting mightily from Pokemon Go. The company takes a 30% cut from any in-app purchases, and Pokemon Go players are spending heavily. The game has been a top-grossing app on Apple’s App Store in all the countries it has launched, generating more money than Spotify or any other mobile game, according to data from App Annie.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai also had kind words for Pokemon Go, and even joked on Alphabet’s earnings call Thursday that some of the analysts on the call were probably playing it while he was talking.

Pichai has a number of good reasons to love the game: Just like Apple, Google is making 30% on any in-app purchases.

Google also owns part of Niantic Labs, the San Francisco-based startup that developed Pokemon Go in cooperation with the Pokemon Company and Nintendo. Thanks to that relationship, Pokemon Go is actually running on Google’s servers, which means that the success of the game is also giving Google’s cloud services business a nice boost.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg fessed up to being a Pokemon Go player during his company’s earnings call Wednesday, saying that he was enjoying the game “like everyone else.” Unlike Google and Apple, Facebook doesn’t actually make any money with Pokemon Go right now.

However, Pokemon is still very relevant to Facebook, if only for strategic reasons. Zuckerberg’s company has spent a lot of money on bringing the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset to market — only to see a company like Microsoft get ready for the release of its own augmented reality (AR) headset, capable of overlaying virtual objects over the real world.

Pokemon Go has a very different approach to AR, and forgoes headsets completely. That’s much less threatening to something like the Oculus Rift than Microsoft’s HoloLens. “The phone is probably going to be the mainstream consumer platform” for AR, Zuckerberg argued during Wednesday’s earnings call, dismissing augmented-reality glasses and headsets.

But there’s another reason why tech execs love Pokemon Go: It’s validating their long-term strategic bets on technologies like VR, AR and other far-out things that aren’t always easy to explain to investors. Said Cook: “We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR.”

And one of the things that Apple, Google and Facebook are investing in may just be the next Pokemon Go.

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