New in our buyer’s guide: All the phones (just the good ones)

It took us a while, but now that we’ve reviewed the Moto Z, we think we’re done testing flagship phones until the iPhone 7 or next Galaxy Note come out (whichever arrives first). With that in mind, we can now confidently say that the following phones belong in our buyer’s guide: the Samsung Galaxy S7, the HTC 10 and the iPhone SE. (Sorry, LG, maybe next year.) While we were at it, we also inducted the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets, since we likely them more or less equally. And, in the less-expensive realm, we added the Roku Streaming Stick in the A/V category. Head over to our buyer’s guide hub for all the details on these and many more. That’s it for now, but stay tuned — who knows what we’ll add after the next gadget-reviewing frenzy.

Source: Engadget Buyer’s Guide

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3D-printed ‘Pokémon Go’ cover aims for you, obscures screen

Catching monsters in Pokémon Go sounds deceptively simple: find a creature, and throw an imaginary ball at it by swiping up on your phone screen. The reality is a lot more frustrating — if you don’t flick your finger in a perfectly straight line, the throw will curve to the side and miss. There are two solutions to this. You could practice, or, you could 3D-print a ridiculous phone-cover that takes away all of the challenge. Jon Clever chose to do the latter.

We tease, but Clever’s Pokéball Aimer is actually a clever little tool. The custom phone cover fits over an iPhone 6 and creates a trench that guide’s the player’s finger up the center of the screen for the perfect Pokéball throw.

Unfortunately, it also obscures a good deal of the screen — offering only cut-outs for on-screen controls. There’s a Pokéball shaped window that allows the player to see the target, but the case is only really useful on the game’s capture screen. This means it has to be removed for battles, menus and the game’s GPS-guided walking mode. It also makes advanced moves, like the curve ball, impossible. Still, tedium is a small price to pay for catching Psyduck. Want your own? You can get the plans for free on My Mini Factory.

Via: Gizmodo

Source: My Mini Factory

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Edward Snowden designed an iPhone case to prevent wireless snooping

Edward Snowden is still trying to combat smartphone radio surveillance three years after spilling the NSA’s secrets. With help from hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, Snowden presented on Thursday designs at the MIT Media Lab for a case-like add-on device that monitors electrical signals sent to an iPhone’s internal antennas.

It looks like an external battery case with a small mono-color screen and is being described as an “introspection engine.” The device’s tiny probe wires have to attach to test points on the iPhone’s circuit board, which are accessible through the SIM card slot. The phone has two antennas that give off electrical signals and they’re used by its radios, including GPS and Bluetooth.

The probe wires read the radio’s electric signals, and by doing so the modified phone warns you when these signals transmit information when they’re meant to be off. You’ll instantly receive alert messages or even an audible alarm, and the phone can even shut off automatically. The intention here is to allow reporters to carry their phones into hostile foreign countries without revealing their locations to government-funded adversaries. They’ll still be able to record video and audio while their iPhone’s radio signals are disabled.

However, the device is still nothing more than a design for now. Snowden and Huang are hoping to build a prototype over the next year, and eventually start offering these modified iPhones to journalists.

Via: Wired

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Apple entices its first big drug company to ResearchKit

Although Apple’s ResearchKit is almost two years old, the platform has mainly been reserved for clinical studies hosted by universities and medical researchers. Hundreds of thousands of people are already contributing data for studies focusing on asthma, diabetes, breast cancer, autism, epilepsy and melanoma, but now drugmakers are getting in on the act. Almost a year after it said it was readying studies using Apple’s health data-collecting tool, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has confirmed the launch of a new research app to help monitor patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

GSK’s Patient Rheumatoid Arthritis Data from the Real World (PARADE) study is the first of its kind and is the first time a major pharmaceutical (or big pharma) company has embarked on such a project. PARADE is designed to look at the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on a patient’s life, by using iPhone sensors to collect information on joint pain, fatigue and overall mood. GSK will track the activity and “quality of life measures” for 300 patients over a three-month period.

GSK Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although GSK uses over 40 different technologies to collect health data, ResearchKit allows doctors, scientists and researchers to collect data more regularly and accurately from patients via their iPhone. It’s not testing a new treatment yet, but the company intends to use the data it collects to “develop medicines more effectively.”

Via: Bloomberg

Source: GSK

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Don’t believe the ‘Pokémon Go’ privacy hype

When the Pokémon Go obsession reached full saturation this week, privacy-concern whispers became full-blown hysterical shrieks when a researcher’s blog post accused the game’s maker of taking over its users’ Google accounts. As it turned out, the app’s iPhone permissions were just poorly implemented, and fixed immediately.

Unfortunately that didn’t stop the privacy and security hysteria machine. All week long, headlines made a mountain out of a molehill, scaring some people into uninstalling the app altogether.

Pokémon Go, a phone game released by Niantic Labs and Nintendo, has been an astonishing success. The game is basically a GPS-guided treasure hunt using a smartphone camera. It sends people out into the world around them, gets them interacting with others, and has brought the U.S. some much-needed distraction and smiles.

The stories emerging through social media might be more entertaining than playing the game itself. Pokémon have been “caught” at gay bars and churches, people have been shooed out of police stations and courthouses trying to catch the little beasts. Someone found a dead body, people have been robbed, and some police departments have even been forced to issue safety guidelines. On the plus side, there are some mental health benefits. Meanwhile, Pokémon Go has added nearly $ 11 billion to the value of Nintendo since its release.

Naturally, a few hackers became interested in what was going on under the app’s hood. But before anyone had a chance to publish detailed findings, researcher Adam Reeve rushed to make a post that set off a chain reaction of hysteria.

Reeve wrote that if you signed into Pokémon Go with Google, the app was given full permission to access your Google account. He claimed that the company could read your Gmail, see your Google search and Maps history, access your private photos, delete things in Google Drive, and more.

He also indicated that it wasn’t possible to sign in alternately, by creating a Pokémon account, and sort of made it sound like something suspicious was going on. News outlets rushed to write hyperbolic headlines without bothering to note that this was only happening on iPhones.

That’s how we ended up with hysterical, misleading headlines like, “Pokémon Go is a major security risk for your entire Google account.” And it’s why we had people screaming white frothy rage on social media that Niantic was backdooring user accounts. It’s also how we ended up with Sen. Al Franken sending a letter to Niantic demanding answers about Pokémon Go‘s privacy practices.

To their credit, Gizmodo contacted Adam Reeve, who then backtracked on his claims, saying he wasn’t “100 percent sure” his blog post was actually true. He also admitted that he didn’t test any of the claims in his post.

In fact, it turned out that Pokémon Go was never able to read people’s Gmail or any of the really scary things that Reeve and some trigger-happy media outlets claimed. Dan Guido, CEO of security company Trail of Bits, did the deep-dive analysis that was needed before any digital ink was spilled in histrionic headlines.

Guido not only cast serious doubt on Reeve’s claims, he talked to Google tech support. Imagine that! They told him the “full account access” everyone was freaking out about doesn’t mean a third party (in this case, Niantic, Nintendo, or Pokémon) can read or send email, access your files or anything else being claimed.

It did mean that Niantic could read so-called biographical information, like an email address and phone number. What Trail of Bits also discovered was that Pokémon Go‘s Google authorization process was using the wrong permission “token.” Their post linked to another researcher who said, “I believe this is a mistake on Google and Niantic’s part and isn’t being used maliciously in the way that was originally suggested.”

Before the Trail of Bits post was even published, Niantic had reacted. The company put out a press release explaining that there had been a permissions snafu with the social login process, and they fixed the internal mistake in record time. Their statement said:

“We recently discovered that the Pokémon Go account creation process on iOS erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account. … Google has verified that no other information has been received or accessed by Pokémon Go or Niantic. Google will soon reduce Pokémon Go‘s permission to only the basic profile data that Pokémon Go needs, and users do not need to take any actions themselves.”

Further, it turned out the mystery about Pokémon’s account signup process being suspiciously unavailable at the time of Reeve’s post wasn’t a conspiracy after all. To the surprise of no one, Pokémon’s servers were getting hammered by all the new traffic.

It’s quite interesting to see so many people wig out about an app’s overreach of permissions. Which is, incidentally, a big deal. And it’s about time.

But it’s really frustrating to watch the outrage flames get fanned and senators spring into action over something that feels more like crying wolf when there are flashlight apps that dubiously “need” to know where you are or must have access to write arbitrary code to your phone. Or, how about a little outrage and action over our recent discovery that popular running app Runkeeper records your location after you’ve turned the app off? (Runkeeper is in trouble for this in Europe but not here.) Better yet, how about a senator demand answers from Facebook over tracking user locations without consent and matching it with strangers’ locations? Because we sure as hell don’t know when Facebook did that, or to whom (or for how long) the company did that. Nor can we can trust that they’ve actually stopped doing this or won’t do it again in the future.

So this week, everyone we know basically joined a geocaching cult. We already knew that no one reads or understands the terms they agree to for apps and websites, even if they demand giving up your first-born child as payment. We learned that setting up social login permissions is actually really fussy and difficult to do right. And everyone learned that signing in with your Google or Facebook account means putting some kind of access to your personal stuff in someone else’s hands. Which, by the way, is why I recommend never, ever in a million years signing in to any app or website in this manner. Seriously, if you do that, just stop locking your front door and get it over with.

If only the entire internet, security’s brighter minds and our elected representatives would level this amount of scrutiny at all apps.

But as one forum commenter wisely explained, “iOS users using Google Account sign-up affected by Pokémon Go permissions bug, Android unaffected” just doesn’t make a sexy headline.

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Moto G4 and G4 Plus review: Bigger and (mostly) better

When it comes to getting the most smartphone for your dollar, the Moto G line has been your best choice for the past few years. We adored the previous model, which came in at a mere $ 180. Now with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, Motorola is literally aiming to make its budget lineup bigger and better. They’ve got larger and sharper screens, improved cameras and, of course, speedier processors. With those upgrades come compromises, though. For one, they’re more expensive: The G4 starts at $ 200 and the G4 Plus at $ 250. Motorola also made some curious design decisions, which in many ways feel like a step back. Still, they both manage to carry the mantle of Smartphone Value King.

Hardware

You won’t find any premium aluminum or chamfered edges on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’ve got practical and simple plastic cases. Still, they don’t feel like budget phones. Their curved edges make them easy to hold, and the slightly textured rear cover feels a bit luxurious against your palm. Both phones are also noticeably larger than any previous Moto G, thanks to their 5.5-inch 1080p screens. At least they’re thinner than their 11.6mm thick predecessor, clocking in at just 7.9 millimeters to 8.9 millimeters. Strangely enough, they weigh the same 155 grams (0.34 pounds) as before.

The G4 and G4 Plus feel pretty solid for plastic encased phones. There’s little flex or creaking when gripped tightly. Long-term durability might be a concern though — somewhere during my week of testing I nicked the top of the G4 Plus’s plastic edge. I never dropped it, so your guess is as good as mine as to how it got damaged. It does make me worried about how well they’d stand up to months of everyday use.

Both phones sport removable back covers, just like all the previous Moto G models. In addition to the nano-SIM slot, there’s a microSD slot for up to 128GB of additional storage. They pack in 3,000mAh non-removable batteries, a nice bump from the last Moto G’s 2,470 mAh offering. It’s a shame that the battery can’t be swapped out, but it’s also large enough that that shouldn’t be a huge issue. (We didn’t have a problem with it last year, either.)

Powering all of this budget goodness are 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 octa-core processors. Both phones offer 16GB of storage by default, but you can bump up to 32GB with the G4 (a no-brainer $ 30 premium) or 64GB with the G4 Plus (for another $ 100). They come with 2GB of RAM, though the 64GB G4 Plus gives you a luxurious 4GB of RAM.

Given that they both share so much hardware, you’re probably wondering what makes the G4 Plus, well… Plus? The most obvious difference is the fingerprint sensor on its front, which sits right below the software home button. The G4 Plus also packs in a 16 megapixel rear camera with phase detection and laser autofocus. The G4, on the other hand, has a 13 megapixel shooter without the added niceties.

One unfortunate downgrade from last year: Neither phone is waterproof. Instead, Motorola is calling them “water repellant,” thanks to a “nano-coating” technology that protects them from spills. That means they should be fine during light rain, or if you spill coffee on them. Just don’t go fully submerging them in anything.

Display and sound

There’s nothing budget about the 5.5-inch 1080p displays on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’re not quite as fancy as the quad HD displays we’re seeing in some flagships, but they still pack in 401 pixels per inch, which is plenty sharp for typical usage. Colors were bright and bold, even in direct sunlight, and viewing angles were surprisingly great. I didn’t notice much of a difference between my iPhone 6S while reading long articles from Pocket and the New York Times app. Videos also looked uniformly great. The big downside is that they’re less capable when it comes to mobile VR. It’s no wonder they’re not Google Daydream ready (though nothing is stopping you from plugging them into a Google Cardboard headset).

On the sound front, Motorola made the curious decision of replacing the last Moto G’s solid stereo speakers with a single one. It’s plenty loud, but it doesn’t sound nearly as good as before. Now that Bluetooth speakers are cheap and small, I’d recommend just snagging one as an accessory.

One nice feature that I never thought I’d have to call out in 2016: both phones have headphone jacks! For the uninformed, you use them to connect a wide variety of audio devices, including headphones. Someone should tell Motorola that these audio ports, which have been universally supported for decades, would be a nice addition to their flagship Moto Z lineup. That’s especially true for the Z Force, which is thick enough to fit a headphone jack. (Yes, the Moto Z comes with a dongle, but that comes with plenty of compromises. You won’t be able to charge the phone when the dongle is plugged in, for example.)

Software

Motorola delivered a nearly stock OS on the G4 and G4 Plus, specifically Android 6.0.1. Marshmallow. The phones are devoid of the junkware and sponsored apps you often find on budget devices. None of this is new for Motorola, it’s been trying to deliver vanilla versions of Android since it was under Google. But it’s nice to see the company stick with that philosophy under Lenovo.

Motorola’s unique gestures, which made their debut on the original Moto X, once again make an appearance. Twisting either phone twice, similar to turning a door handle, quickly loads up the camera from anywhere in the OS. Making a double-chopping motion turns their flashlights on and off. What’s particularly nice is that both features work consistently even when the phones are in standby mode.

Camera

This is where the Moto G4 and G4 Plus truly diverge. Should you settle with a 13 megapixel camera, or spend the extra cash for the G4 Plus’s 16 megapixel one loaded with autofocusing upgrades? Based on my testing, the G4’s camera is a bit hit or miss. Sometimes it delivered sharp and vibrant photos, but sometimes its color rendering was all off. It was also a constant disappointment in low light. The G4 Plus was a lot more consistent — it was able to lock onto subjects much more quickly, and it was actually useful in low light. Looking at both phones shows how far we’ve come in the world of mobile cameras. But, if I had to choose, I’d opt for the G4 Plus’s shooter without any hesitation.

While Motorola used a light touch with most of the software, its camera app is a very different experience from Google’s stock entry. There’s a radial exposure meter right next to the focusing ring, which lets you lighten or darken the image by dragging it up or down. Flash, HDR and timer settings are also on the left side of the screen, instead of the top. If you want to take panoramic photos, or simply want manual controls, you’ll have to use a separate app, like ProShot or Open Camera.

Performance

While I was bracing for a slow experience with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus (due to increased rendering demands for 1080p screens, last year’s display was only 720p), both phones surprised me with their relatively smooth performance. Sure, they’re not as instantaneously zippy as expensive flagships, but they also don’t feel like “budget” devices. Browsing around Android Marshmallow, launching multiple hefty apps like Pokemon Go, and juggling through them was relatively painless. There was the occasional slowdown on the G4, but nothing show-stopping. If anything, their performance feels more in line affordable mid-range phones like the Nexus 5X.

And when it came to demanding usage, I was surprised by how well both phones held up. I was able to capture 1080p videos of both phones’ displays using the AZ Screen Recorder app while running Pokemon Go and jumping through several apps. The Moto G4 showed a bit of slowdown, but Pokemon Go was still totally playable. And the resulting video didn’t have any major hiccups or dropped frames. The Moto G4 Plus with 4GB of RAM fared even better, with no slowdown during screen recording.


Moto G4 Moto G4 Plus Moto G (2015) Moto G (2014)
AndEBench 16,159 16,371 4,259 3,929
Vellamo 3.0 2,762 2,819 1,992 1,669
3DMark IS Unlimited 9,841 9,851 4,518 4,679
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 6.6 6.6 1.7 N/A
CF-Bench 61,030 60,998 20,999 14,470

The benchmarks for both phones reflect the strong performance I saw. Compared to last year’s Moto G, they scored four times higher in AndEBench, three times faster in CF-Bench and they were more than twice as fast when it came to the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. Of course, benchmarks aren’t everything, but huge performance bumps like these are noteworthy. I wouldn’t have dared play a complex 3D game on the last Moto G, but the G4 and G4 Plus ran games like Racing Rivals without any issue.

The fingerprint sensor on the G4 Plus was easy to set up, and it had no trouble accurately recognizing my fingers. Its placement on the face of the phone is confounding, though. Motorola would have been better off placing it on the rear of the phone like LG, or making it an actual home button like Samsung and HTC.

As for battery life, neither phone disappointed. Their 3,000mAh offerings had no trouble lasting me throughout a full day, even when I decided to go on some impromptu Pokemon hunts. In our test, which involves looping an HD video at 50 percent brightness, they both lasted around 12 hours and 30 minutes. The previous Moto G, lasted 10 hours and 40 minutes.

The competition

At $ 200 for the Moto G4 and $ 250 for the G4 Plus, both phones are practically in a class of their own. There are cheaper phones out there, including Motorola’s own Moto E and HTC’s $ 179 Desire 530, but they all have significantly worse performance in every respect. If you wanted a big upgrade, you could step up to the Nexus 5X, which currently sells for between $ 280 and $ 350, and remains one of the best Android phones on the market. Beyond that, there are the affordable high-end options like the $ 399 OnePlus 3.

If you’ve only got $ 200 to spend, there’s no better option than the Moto G4 right now. Stepping up to the G4 Plus gets a bit more confusing. If you want the 64GB version with 4GB of RAM, you’d have to shell out $ 300. At that point, the Nexus 5X is more tempting thanks to its faster hardware, though you’d have to live with its smaller 5.2-inch screen.

Wrap-up

Motorola’s big problem with these new phones is that the last Moto G was simply too good. In pushing for larger screens and other upgrades, it also introduced some compromises. Ultimately though, the good outweighs the bad. The Moto G4 and G4 Plus offer plenty of power and versatility without breaking the bank. And they show that, once again, nobody does budget phones better than Motorola.

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MasterCard is lending its mobile payment tech to banks

MasterCard is hoping to make in-store mobile payments — the ability to wave your phone at a terminal to buy something — more accessible. The company is teaming up with several banks, including Citi and Bank of America, to let customers pay for stuff using bank apps on their phones. Meaning, you won’t have to download a dedicated app.

This will be enabled through MasterCard’s Masterpass service, which is already available for in-app and online purchases, but now can be used in-stores. Consumers will be able to use it at over 5 million in-store locations in 77 countries. However, the feature will only be on Android phones that have built-in NFC chips. iPhone users will be left out because Apple doesn’t permit other companies to use its chip, which already powers a similar service in Apple Pay.

Tech giants like Google helped introduce the concept of mobile payments to the US a few years ago, and last year they accounted for $ 8.7 billion in sales. This will more than triple in 2016, according to leading media and commerce researcher eMarketer.

Mastercard believes that the ability to provide more information, like balances and rental car coverage, will give Masterpass a slight advantage over more established services like Android Pay. The company has also introduced a new logo to kickstart its shift towards mobile payments.

The rollout will start this month in the US, followed by Europe, Africa, and the Middle East later this year, and other areas in 2017.

Source: MasterCard

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Facebook Messenger offer 3D Touch previews on your iPhone 6s

Add one more to the list of Facebook apps belatedly making use of recent iPhone features. Facebook has introduced 3D Touch support to Messenger on iOS, making your iPhone 6s or 6s Plus that much more useful when you’re chatting up a storm. The update adds pressure-sensitive previews to seemingly everything — you can peek at chats, contacts, locations, media, web links and even stickers. If you want to find out whether or not that conversation or photo is worth viewing, you’ll want to get the new version right away.

Source: App Store

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Adobe Lightroom now lets you edit RAW files on your phone

Adobe Lightroom mobile users have been asking for the ability to edit RAW files in the mobile app, and now the company doing something about the request. In the latest update for the iOS version of the software, there’s a RAW Technology preview. This means that you’ll be able to import those hefty files to your iPhone or iPad, giving you a means of checking the images before you get back to your computer. Lightroom mobile for iOS will also let you edit the files just like you would in the desktop or web versions of the app, making changes to white balance, highlights and more for an uncompressed file. Those changes also sync across devices.

iOS users will also be able to adjust linear and radial selections inside the app. With those tools, you can add a selection, modify an existing one or use the features to emphasize certain parts of an image. If you fancy doing your edits with an iPad and a connected keyboard, you’ll now be able to use those handy shortcuts with the mobile app. The update is available from the App Store now for both iPhone and iPad, free of charge.

The Android version of the app is getting some new features, too. Earlier this year, Adobe added an in-app camera and “shoot-through” presets to the app. With this update, the company is adding manual controls to that workflow as well. When you’re taking photos with Lightroom mobile on Android, you’ll be able to leverage a new Pro mode that allows adjustments to ISO, shutter speed, white balance and manual focus. Adobe brought its DNG RAW format to the Android app a while back, and now the software has the manual controls to go along with it. What’s more, there’s also a new Lightroom Camera widget for easy access to those features, so you won’t have to launch the full app just to grab a few snapshots.

Android faithful also gain improved support for full-resolution files. If you have an image stored somewhere within the Lightroom ecosystem, you’ll be able to pull it into the full-res version, make your changes and export it. The latest version of the Android app offers those features and more for free, and it’s available now over at Google Play.

Source: Adobe

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‘Pokémon Go’ is the ‘aha’ moment AR has been waiting for

Pokémon is a thing right now thanks to Pokémon Go. Niantic’s AR creature-catching game is number one in both the Android and iOS app stores, and it’s on track to have more daily active users than Twitter thanks to an install base of 7.5 million players so far. It was impossible to go out this past weekend without being surrounded by Pokémon Go players of all stripes — a lot of kids, sure, but plenty of adults, too. Some were revisiting their childhood love of the franchise while others were discovering it for the first time. But cute little monsters aren’t the only thing Pokémon Go is their first exposure to: For many of these players, it’s their first time using augmented reality. And, based on their reactions, they love it.

Augmented reality has been around in various forms for years, but it’s failed to take the mainstream by storm. Sure, you can see what a kitchen remodel would look like or get more information about a work of art hanging in front of you, but these aren’t things a person does on a regular basis. Most uses of AR have been tied to very specific experiences and locations rather than a person’s daily routine.

Instead, AR is more like virtual reality’s neglected cousin. While consumer-grade VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are available now, high-profile AR projects like Hololens are still only in the developer stage. Sure, there’s Lenovo’s upcoming Phab2 Pro, a phone optimized for AR usage. But Lenovo isn’t a marquee name when it comes to phones and is unlikely to sell enough to make an impact.

Pokémon Go, however, has exploded into a full-on phenomenon. My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been overrun by people’s experiences with the game. As I walked around my neighborhood this past weekend I encountered plenty of people excited to catch Pokémon. A small child running with an iPhone in hand; his mother laughing at she tried to keep up. Three teenagers, standing outside my local library, discussing how to take over the Pokémon Gym there. I found myself walking by people with their phones out and turning to look at their screens to see if they were playing Pokémon Go… only to find they were looking back at me for the same reason.

The reasons for some of its success are clear: The app is free, which means there’s no financial barrier. It was released on both iOS and Android at the same time, which means nobody has to miss out on the initial excitement (unless they’re one of the 1.1 percent running Windows Phone). And then there’s the fact that Pokémon is an internationally recognized brand that once graced the cover of Time magazine.

Fans have been clamoring to see the franchise on smartphones for years and, though the Pokémon Company has released a handful of apps, none of the games have really utilized the basic mechanics of capturing a plethora of fantastical creatures. The motto of the series for years was “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” and if you were to talk to a layperson even remotely familiar with the franchise, they’d probably mutter those words at some point. It’s only appropriate to make this mechanic the center of Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go

The whole process is extremely intuitive: When you see a Pokémon on the map you tap on it. Then you center the Pokémon on the screen, and flick Poké Balls at it with a swipe of your finger. The balls even obey the laws of physics, following an arc downward as gravity pulls on them. They even roll away if you miss (you pick them back up by tapping on them). The learning curve is incredibly small for this core part of the game.

But it’s the connection to the real world that really cements the experience for newbie players. They might not feel comfortable immersing themselves in a fantasy world with a lot of backstory like the Kanto region of Pokémon Red and Blue. Instead, Pokémon Go is asking them to take a closer look at something a bit more familiar — the world around them.

It’s a lot less intimidating, especially to a newcomer. It helps that in establishing its reality the game firmly grounds itself in our world in ways that make sense to a player: Of course Water-type Pokémon live near rivers and lakes and Grass-type Pokémon are in the park. Of course notable locations like a historic house or mural would be a PokéStop. And, while there aren’t many actual gyms serving as Pokémon Gyms in the game, heading to your local library or church makes a weird sort of sense too because these are important buildings to a community.

Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go is operating as a trojan horse for AR because it isn’t touting itself as an enhancement in any way. It’s not going to give you restaurant reviews when you look at a storefront, and that’s fine because most people don’t need an extra layer on the world right now. Granted, AR has its own pitfalls: Pokémon Go trainers have stumbled upon dead bodies, almost caused a few accidents and there’s at least one case of late-night players being accused of drug dealing. However, smartphones are so ubiquitous that no one really questions seeing another person wave one around, and the ability to show off the game and easily explain how it works has rendered it mostly harmless.

Pokémon Go is a great introduction to AR, showing people how the technology works and putting the idea into people’s heads that there could be something more to the world around us. Right now those thoughts fall along the lines of “What if there’s a Weedle behind that bush?” But, as people get used to the idea of pointing a phone at an object or place to reveal a hidden layer to it, it’ll become second nature to them, paving the way for more substantial AR experiences.

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