Why the Internet of Things Needs More Personality

It seems as though everything is becoming connected. It’s not just smartwatches from the likes of Apple or Samsung. It’s also cars, homes, health, industry and agriculture. We have connected babies (well onesies), WiFi sniffing cats and even (the slightly pointless) a connected yoga mat. That’s all very well, but the mere existence of technology does not equal adoption. Cue Cat is my favourite example of a large technology investment with no user take-up. When it comes to the IoT Michael Humphrey writing in Forbes summed it up well – we have an ‘enthusaism gap’.

Clearly, going from innovation to adoption is not easy. Bill Buxton talks about The Long Nose of Innovation. Development happens over many decades until we create a truly usable product. The computer mouse and smartphone touch screens are two examples. How could we apply the long nose to the IoT? Some people suggest it will reach true innovation when it becomes invisible and we don’t know it’s there. That might be true in part, but I think there is a flip side – we need to create more enthusiasm by making the IoT more visible and giving objects a personality.

Things That Tweet
The micro-blogging channel has been put to good use, not just by people but also Tweeting objects. We have Mars Curiosity (@marscuriosity), the Crossrail Tunneling machine, Big Bertha (@BerthaDigsCR99) and there’s Tom Coates’ Tweeting house (@houseofcoates). Fun? Yes. But it seems to go deeper than that. @houseofcoates has 1400 followers (slightly more than I do), and some of them get into conversations with the house (and very occasionally, it replies).

Enchanted Objects
MIT Lab scientist, David Rose, harks back to the days of beautifully crafted artifacts that fulfilled just specific tasks. He worries that the future of most objects will be little more than a black slab of glass without any enchantment (and without personality). He is on a mission to create and promote more enthusiasm with enchanting objects. Often, these objects have fewer functions but they do them beautifully. He gives the example of the umbrella, where the handle glows when it is going to rain or a medicine bottle that chirps to remind you to take a pill. Simplicity and delight are the key to the engagement.

Simple, Fun Experiences
Taking a cue from David Rose, if we are to engage with the IoT then we need to focus on simplicity and fun. The Smart Crossing was a recent Cannes Lions winner for Smart Cars that did just that. To discourage pedestrians from crossing in front of the traffic they created a light where the red, stop person danced. Not only that, but the moves were created by real people in a booth nearby. Of course, everyone waited at the lights, entertained for a few minutes by a dancing person.

More Personality
Brad The Toaster is a more anthropomorphic incarnation. Though an artistic concept, rather than a real thing, it brings a personality to the problem of over consumption. Brad is one of many connected toasters that can’t be owned (he’s more like a cat in that respect). You can look after Brad and use him, but if he is neglected then he will simply give himself to someone else. This idea could be applied to other products like self-driving cars. Given that the vehicles we own spend most of their time parked up, it makes little sense to own a car . However, we have a strong emotional relationship with them. Even in a self-driving world where the car just appears when you want it, giving them up won’t be so simple. Perhaps, though, if they have personality more like Brad The Toaster then we’ll be more likely to switch to a simple rental model.

‘Clothes have Feelings Too’
Taking the Brad concept further, I’ve been developing an idea called The Internet of Clothes. In developed nations we buy too many clothes and wear very few of them. One solution is that your clothes will ask to be worn. They will Tweet you based on the weather, frequency of wear or occasion. And if you ignore them? They will contact a charity for recycling.

I hope that giving clothes a sense of personality it can help people make better use of the resource. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same for other IoT objects. At the simplest level, we can feel more engaged but at a deeper level, it’s also about building an anthropomorphic relationship. For us humans it makes the whole IoT easier to comprehend.

Facebook’s Dislike Button. What’s Not To Like?

Speaking at a recent event in California, Mark Zuckerberg suggested that the social network would be introducing a new button. He said, ‘”We have an idea that we’re going to be ready to test soon, and depending on how that does, we’ll roll it out more broadly”. Although the Facebook CEO didn’t name it as such, it has been branded the ‘Dislike’ button.


If it is implemented, this will be an interesting new step for Facebook. The current Like button, that first appeared in 2007, was famously the result of a hackathon. It was proposed as an ‘Awesome’ button. Realising that many post of cats and people’s children were less than awesome, it transformed into the Like that we know today.  The success of the button is both its binary simplicity and the fact that it is a positive acknowledgement of the post. Even when a post is more serious or tragic, the action of Liking is widely understood to be positive and supportive.

For Facebook, there is a need to move forwards. At a time when many young users are switching to Instagram and WhatsApp (both owned by Facebook), they need to innovate to encourage retention. The challenge of a Dislike button, though, comes from its very nature. It’s a negative action. In a Wired article, Brian Barrett suggested that it will create a negative atmosphere that will simply put people off posting. Given the personal nature of these networks, it’s easy to understand why users will be discouraged if disapproval is as simple as clicking a button.

The negativity of the Dislike button could, potentially run even deeper though. Unlike Reddit, one of the benefits of Facebook is that posts are not ranked. Once you have two options, Like and Dislike, there will be an inevitable sense of competitiveness on posts, discouraging yet more users.

I’m sure Facebook are aware of the challenges, but they will need to tread carefully. Posts and shares are the lifeblood of Facebook and that in turn is what drives their advertisers. So in the end, the success of a Dislike button will probably come down to money.

It’s All in The Wrist Action … Apple Pay and The Apple Watch

apple_pay_watch-580x387I was excited by the thought of Apple Pay on my Watch. There’s a (childish) appeal that I can pay for stuff just using the device on my wrist. And it looks as if I’m not the only one. In June, mobile analyst,  Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) Tweeted: ‘Apple Pay with a phone is still just taking something out of your pocket. Not transformative. With a watch it’s amazing. End of friction’. A report released in August from Writstly found that 80% of Watch users have paid with the system and 78% do so at least once a week. With such a high uptake, does that make Apple Pay a rip-roaring success? The answer is, probably not.

I am one of the 80% who have used Apple Pay on the Watch and it has been far from life changing. It is good enough, but far from the great experience that Apple has delivered elsewhere. Double clicking to ‘prime’ the card is fairly easy, although it’s effectively a two-handed operation. Tapping in to pay can be tricky at times. The biggest challenge is getting the angle right on the reader. They are generally set up on the right hand side and this is especially a problem on London’s transport network. If you wear your watch on your left then tapping in can be somewhat hit and miss. That’s not great on TfL where a nanosecond’s pause will cause havoc and loud tutting from other commuters. Another challenge is the availability in retailers. My UK experience is that very few outlets advertise Apple Pay. So for many shops it’s a case of tapping to see if it works. So even on the Watch there is still some friction.

In spite of the Wristly study, its difficult to know the true uptake of the payment system – we don’t know how many Apple Watches have been sold and there have only been a couple of broader studies in the US. One survey from InfoScout covering all Apple devices pointed towards a drop in payment adoption rates – from 15% in March 2015 to 13% in June. The second study was a Gallup Poll, which found that 65% of iPhone 6 users were aware of the payment system, but only 21% had used it. None of these show a comparison in take up with contactless cards, so there’s no baseline to gauge the success.

The Wristly study was a self-selecting sample of Watch users. It’s reasonable to assume that these are early adopters of the device who are likely to try out Apple Pay regardless of the experience. When it comes to a broader audience an experience that’s ‘good enough’ is probably not good enough to drive mass adoption. At the end of the day, Apple Pay is good attempt at mobile payment but it’s hard to see how it will achieve real scale. That said, I’m going to keep using Apple Pay on my Watch. Not because it’s any easier, but just because I can.

If Mobile is Contextual, then Smartwatches are Hyper-Contextual

apple-watch-review-heroI’ve previously blogged about the challenges for the Apple Watch. Right now though, nobody can agree on the success of the device. Data from Slice Intelligence, reported by MacRumours  suggested that sales fell by 90% in the second week of July. However, Recode countered that the data only accounted for US online sales and didn’t factor in the launch in physical stores during the same period. Regardless of the ‘sales’ stats, Business Insider has predicted a 35% annual compound growth of the smartwatch market. The Apple Watch is therefore an interesting device in which to understand the direction and benefits of wearable computing.

Having used my device for nearly two months (yes, I have an Apple Watch), it’s been a good way to understand what works and what doesn’t. For example, I find the notifications are more useful than I expected. Whilst getting my phone out my bag or pocket is not a major hassle, there are benefits with notifications on the Watch. For a start, it’s discreet. I have been in a few meetings where my Watch quietly buzzed and I could quickly glance down to see what it wanted. That’s less of a disruption than pulling my phone out my bag. One commentator claimed that all the notifications do is to tell you to pick up your phone. I haven’t found that. Some of the notifications are reminders of another next meeting. I also use it to check the weather, transport and currency rates. None of these require me to look at my smartphone.

One of the unexpected benefits has been for travel. I can set an arrival time for a journey in Citymapper and it will alert me when I need to leave, based on the current speed of the transport network. The turn by turn navigation is also useful. I was in a less savoury part of the city the other week and it was more discreet to use my Watch than get out my phone to check the route (if only Apple Maps were a bit more reliable). The navigation is also useful when it’s raining or I have my hands full.

What’s interesting about all these benefits is that they are all very specific, or contextual. There is a parallel with the contextual nature of smartphones. I have been banging on for years about the need of brands to understand context in mobile to deliver the right engagement. For example, context is not simply knowing the user’s location. Understanding that I’m in-store is useful, but it doesn’t tell me if I’m browsing, ready to buy or just can’t find the product I’m looking for. Context also includes the time of day, my intent and even functions such as the battery life (when people’s batteries are low, the save their usage for basic tasks like messaging their loved ones).

I’ve asked a number of people how they are finding their Watch. Although each person uses it differently, everyone said it was useful, but not essential. Maybe that will change if Apple Pay gains traction. However, the non-essential nature is the key point here. Whilst smartphones are now an essential core device, smartwatches are not. They are useful for very specific tasks. If brands want to develop their engagement on these devices then they will need to understand the very specific contexts in which they are useful. It’s hyper-contextual. Of course the challenge for brands is how to understand or identify that hyper-context.

Five Good Examples of Brand Innovation from Cannes Lions

Cannes Lions, the Oscars of advertising, will kick off later this week with innovation at the heart of their approach. Increasingly, the deployment of technology has been a strong element of the awards. In 2012, Nike’s Fuel Band won the Grand Prix Prize and last year, it went to Nivea’s beacon-based Bracelet . This year’s nominees contain a strong smattering of connected objects. Here are some of the stronger contenders:

Nike RISE LED Court

This is the kind of experiential campaign that you would expect from the sports giant. Big, flashy and well-executed:

Clever Buoy

Arguably this isn’t brand advertising but simply a good concept from Australia. Sharks emit a unique sonar signature and buoys strategically located near the coastline can be used to alert lifeguards of the proximity of sharks:


From sharks to cycles, R/GA (the company that developed Nike’s Fuel) is a T shaped device that clips to a bike’s handlebars. It connects to a smartphone and uses lights to guide the cyclist around their route – thus mitigating the need to become distracted by their phone.

Samsung Safety Truck

This is a simple and effective concepts that the tech manufacturer developed in Argentina. The country suffers particularly high road fatalities, not helped by the large number of single-lane roads. Their truck simply used a wireless camera at the front and projected the road ahead onto a screen behind so that drivers could easily see if the road ahead was clear. Maybe all trucks will have something like this one day?

The Dancing Traffic Light

This campaign superbly solves the problem of over-eager pedestrians in an engaging way. Instead of a static red person, they dance! Simple enough, but the dancing pedestrian is actually a member of the public in a nearby booth. Their movements are translated into a simple red LEDs that keeps pedestrians entertained instead of trying to cross in front of the traffic:

Internet of Things Strategy – how businesses are using it already

Trillion fold rise in computing powerThere’s much talk about the Internet of Things (IoT), from wearables to connected devices. We’re seeing lots of shiny new gadgets, but what are the implications for business? Should everyone have a strategy? Without wanting to create a sense of panic, businesses will be surprised by the speed and impact that a rapidly connected world will have.

Moore’s Law, is a good way to understand the growth of tech – it’s not actually a law, but a suggestion that computing power will double every 18 months. In fact, things have developed faster than that and we’ve seen a trillion-fold rise in speed/power since the 1970s. It’s what makes wearables, cloud computing and the Raspberry Pi all possible. It’s not just the growth of computing power either. We’ve also seen the development of new sensors, interactions, big data and AI, along with rapid prototyping tools such as Arduino or 3D printing (often financed by crowd funding). The trouble is, humans aren’t great at understanding the concept of exponential growth, and the academic Larry Downs has pointed out that society, business and governments all develop at different linear rates. In other words, we are responding much slower than the technology is developing.

The concept of the Internet of Things is not simply that devices can connect to the internet, but whole ecosystems that make relevant connections between objects and people (or even cows). Connected homes and cars are obvious examples, but the IoT is also impacting on health, industry (especially with robotics) and agriculture (through sensors). This creates a wealth of data that is increasingly being analysed by intelligent machines.

Why is any of that relevant to businesses and brand marketing in particular? The development of mobile devices is a good parallel. Consumers were ahead of brands in using the devices. They also had an expectation that there would be mobile compatible services. Many businesses were slow to get on board, but are finally getting there. The growth of the IoT means that consumers will also expect businesses, even service-focused brands, to be more efficient and more integrated. That doesn’t mean producing pointless apps or gadgets, but rather, providing a better customer experience by leaveraging the benefits of the IoT. An example of how this integration works is the way that health insurers are using fitness and health monitoring products as part of their customer offering.

There are a few companies have already understood how they can leverage the IoT:

– Nike’s Fuel Band (now discontinued) was an example of a brand utility that took their running up into a technology product

– Nivea used beacon technology to deliver a cheap, paper wrist-based tracker to parents

– Disney has made a $1bn investment in their Magic Band, which makes every element of their parks into a frictionless experience

Then we have an increasing number of businesses where the IoT is core:

– Home control devices such as Nest or Hive are fundamentally IoT companies

Tesla cars are all connected devices. When there was a problem with their software, rather than having an expensive recall, the company was able to make an over the air update and avoid a potential PR disaster

– Withings, the French health tech company only create connected products such as their blood pressure monitor or scales

– Then there’s Uber. They are the world’s biggest cab company but they don’t own a single vehicle. The app is classic IoT by contextually connecting passengers to taxis and their drivers. ‘The Uber for X’ is now the current shorthand for this type of connected business

These examples show how most brands can include the IoT as part of their customer strategy. So what can you do about it? I’ve been looking at IoT strategy for a while now, and come up with a few simple ways in which brands can see how to implement it:

– Connect your existing channels and devices – from Twitter to the excellent IFTTT there are many ways in which to connect your existing activities across a range of devices. There are many good examples – Twitter was how Louis Vuitton connected their ‘Hello Cube’ project, extending it from The Tate Modern to a global audience

Apps as a service layer – it’s not just Uber. Smartphones are the core devices for the IoT. We need to move beyond apps as a goal and instead think, of them as the service tool that makes relevant connections to create ecosystems. Air BnB (who book more rooms than The Hilton Group), Waze, Lyft (transport), Depop (vintage clothing) or Yplan (events) are all superb examples of how to create a connected, frictionless service

Smart watches are not small smartphones – the initial raft of Apple Watch apps have focused on two main areas – notifications and scaled down apps. Notifications make sense, but don’t recognize the full potential. Many brands (I won’t name them) have simply scaled down their iPhone efforts into slightly pointless Watch apps. The solution? It’s about creating the service layer (I mentioned above) that has been successful on smartphones

What’s the real problem? Many brands allow the tech to drive their marketing campaigns (think QR codes, iBeacons or drone deliveries) and with more of it about the challenge is even greater. Many of the current smartwatch apps address a phantom problem – that taking your smartphone out of your pocket is a major challenge in your life. Ditch the technology, think like a user and address a real problem

From health to transport to industry, the IoT has the opportunity to make the world a better place. However, even when the tech is there, the applications won’t keep up. Microsoft’s Bill Buxton talked about The Long Nose of Innovation. He took the (computer) mouse as an example, which went from a wooden block in the 60s, to Xerox Parc in the 70s, the Apple Mac in the 80s and finally to all PCs. When it comes to the IoT  we are at the early stages of that long nose. For brands and marketing, the best thing to do is to experiment, innovate and see what you can do. Just don’t make a pointless Apple Watch app.