2015 Predictions: Mobile, Wearables and Connected Technologies

It’s a pretty safe prediction that iBeacons, Apple Watch, drones, 3D printing and VR will continue to receive a considerable amount of hype next year. Who knows, someone might attempt a Crowd Sourced 3D-Printed QR Code Live Streamed Via Go Pro for real? A combination of cheap computing, rapid prototyping and new funding will bring many more gadgets and connected devices. All very exciting, but what’s hype and what’s actually interesting?

In 2015, don’t get too excited about:
Beacons. They will not save retail . In some unsurprising news, a study in 2014 found that consumers think beacons are largely annoying. There are some opportunities where the technology can offer a good solution to problems. The (award winning) Nivea Protection wrist band is a good example of where this type of technology works well.

Is anyone really interested in beacons?

Wearables, whilst popular with techies, don’t expect an uptake like that of smartphones or even tablets. In fact some categories such as fitness bands may become redundant through smartphone health monitoring apps (think, Apple’s Health apps)

Smartwatches will not simply have to compete in the tech space – they also competing in the fashion accessories market. So consumer choice is not simply about functionality but also about image and style.

– Brands may try, but wearables are probably not a place for advertising (although Indian Company, Techsol have announced a wearable ad server). For brands, it’s isn’t simply a matter of down-sizing for a smaller screen – they will need to consider the whole engagement.

AR/VR in the form of Google Glass and Oculus Rift will remain as essentially prototypes. There are specific industries or applications, such as medicine, that will benefit but this does not make them mass market.

This might actually be a good use of Google Glass

Things to be (slightly) more excited about in 2015:

Messaging channelsWhat’sApp/Line/WeChat will continue to grow in place of SMS. Visual messaging through Snapchat and Intsagram will also see growth, especially with a younger audience. Significantly, Instagram’s user base overtook Twitter in 2014 – perhaps the latter has reached its peak.

– For brands the challenge in social is an interesting one. Users, especially younger demographics, are switching channels rapidly. The role of Facebook and Twitter as content channels will be less important. In fact, some are already predicting the demise of Facebook. Whilst brands would do well to focus their attention on delivering service in messaging apps, although they will probably struggle to get the attention of a younger audience.

As home screen notifications/replies become more common, we will see fewer app openings. That’s a problem for the likes of Facebook, but it’s also going to be a challenge for brand advertising. What’s the point in buying ads in an app if it’s not going to be opened?

– So what will be the successful apps of 2015? In essence it will be those that bring an additional the service layer beyond the functionality, especially those that make clever use of gamification and APIs. Good examples are Duolingo or City Mapper

– Along side service layers is the growth of the collaborative economy, delivered through apps. Think AirBnB, Waze, or Hailo (I’m NOT advocating Uber as a good example of the collaborative economy though)

– The mobile payment space will become a key battleground for brands in 2015. Many people were exciting by the potential of Apple Pay but it has already run into corporate obstacles

Peer to Peer Payment is set to grow in 2015. Barclays PingIt is a (rare) good example from a brand – it has become their largest channel for new customer acquisition. My money is on the third party providers though. P2P creates opportunities in the startup space, as demonstrated by the excellent Droplet. My guess is that’s where the success will be and brands/corporates will be playing catch up.

Big Data is interesting (really, it is). The true potential hasn’t been realised yet and amazing things could happen if we combine the potential of the vast amount of data from personal devices (wearables or smartphones) with the AI development from Google or IBM’s Watson. (or even this simple idea)

Here’s a few trends that might be interesting in 2015.

The Internet Fridge. Something not to get excited about in 2015. Or ever.

The Rise of The Phone Zombie

Earlier this year the picture below was trending on Twitter, with the ironic statement (and I paraphrase) ‘What on earth is this guy looking at? The World or something?’. It looks like we’ve become a society of phone zombies.

Instead of engaging in conversation with our friends or family, it seems we are constantly distracted by our smartphones. As if proof were needed, a recent IPSOS study identified this trend. They surveyed 16,000 people in 20 countries and 60% of them agreed that they were ‘constantly looking at their screens’. In the UK though, 71% said they were glued to their phones (second only to China). Perhaps our zombie behaviour is best summed up by Buzzfeed’s, 23 Pictures that Prove Society is Doomed. This phenomena doesn’t just impact on our social lives, there are other risks. One cyclist, writing in London’s Metro paper, explained that phone zombies were the most frequent hazard she had to contend with. Maybe in the future our smartphones will need proximity sensors to alert us of traffic hurtling towards us.

Is the phone zombie good or bad for marketing? A decent ad person would spin the problem into an opportunity. For example, we reach for our mobiles within 15 mins of waking and check them up to 150 times per day. That’s a lot of marketing opportunities. But perhaps, just perhaps the best thing we can do is to help society act a little less like the living dead and occasionally speak to other people. The Brazilian beer brand, Polar tried to do exactly that. They created the phone nullifier. A bottle wrapper was able to block the phone signal for anyone within a few feet, thus nullifying the phone zombies and ensuring that people enjoyed their drink, whilst conversing with their real friends.

Arguably though, the phone zombie could be seen as a natural behavior. Humans, especially the younger variety, enjoy media that distracts us from the real world. The Victorians complained that young people spent too much time reading books. Television and video games have constantly been blamed for corrupting teenagers. Perhaps the phone zombie is just another example in a line of media distractions. Before smartphones, commuters were hiding behind newspapers on their journey to work. And maybe the only reason the man in the picture is looking at The World was because on that day, his battery had died.

Beacons, the Saviour of Retail? Probably Not.

Since Apple launched their iBeacons, a Bluetooth-based proximity channel, some marketers have seen them as the saviour of in-store engagement. Retailers from Macy’s to Tesco’s are trialling the technology. In France, the supermarket chain Carrefour is putting them in 1000 stores. However, beacons present a common digital marketing challenge; technology itself is never a brand marketing solution. In the late 90s nearly $200 million was put into a scanning device called Cue Cat. It was sent to over 1.5m million people in the hope that they would scan bar codes printed in magazines instead of typing in URLs. In spite of the backing from major brands and publishers, the project was a failure. From a user perspective it didn’t solve any problems. When Beacons first launched I wrote a blog, Bluetooth the Revenge, pointing out the limitations of beacons as a marketing technology. The two practical hurdles are that people need an app installed and their Bluetooth turned on. Whenever I have researched it, that number is around 30% of people (there’s some research here). So 70% don’t have their Bluetooth on. For brands, as always, the key is to get the engagement right. They need to give their customers some pretty good reasons to use iBeacons. I’m not sure if giving offers is enough. To get users to engage, brands will need to use it to solve real problems, not just encourage more purchases. There have been a couple of recent studies, that suggest, unsurprisingly, that users don’t want to be stalked by brands in store. Opinion Lab, for example found that 77% of people don’t want to be tracked in shops. Our phones are personal and it seems like we have enough marketing already. My worry with beacons is that they will simply be consigned to the dustbin of technology history. In a few years time will we look back and say ‘do you remember iBeacons’, along with the Apple Newton and the Cue Cat?

The Challenge for The Fashion Brand, Apple

Updated, March 2015

Whilst some are calling the Apple Watch a game changer, many tech observers have missed the point. The Apple Watch is a fashion accessory and it makes Apple a fashion brand. Whilst previous products from the iPod onwards have had a lifestyle element to their branding, the watch puts Apple firmly into the fashion accessory market. The industry bible, Women’s Wear Daily pointed out that Apple’s real competition is not from other tech providers such as Samsung, but the from the mid-range watch manufacturers such as Swatch and Guess. Both of these companies are developing their own products due out within the next 12 months.

Apple understand the importance of being a fashion brand. They have made significant hires from Burberry and Gap, not to mention the addition of leading designer Marc Newson. A number of fashion and watch journalists were invited to the launch event, which further demonstrates the importance of the sector to Apple.

What was the fashion industry’s reaction to the Apple Watch? Generally favourable, but not totally blown away. It’s probably best summed up by Alex Blanter from A.T. Kearney, who specialises in fashion insight:

“Everybody is still trying to figure out how to make a smartwatch a truly must-have device, rather than an interesting and curious novelty,”

An interesting take on the Apple Watch came from HSBC Research who looked at the market for the product in China. They pointed out that luxury watches are bought not to tell the time, but as a status symbol. Is the Apple Watch a sufficient status symbol for that market? They pointed out that the most significant market in this area were as gifts. On that basis, Louis Vuitton or high end sporting goods are competitors as much as watch brands. Perhaps that is Apple’s biggest challenge. Whilst smartphones are (arguably) an essential item, the Apple Watch is not. As an accessory, watches are replaced much less frequently than smartphones. Whilst there is clearly a market amongst the early adopters, does it have what it takes to compete in the higher end accessories market? Understanding the retail challenge, Apple announced that the Watch would be available in selected retailers such as Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and Selfridges luxury hall in London.

One thing that is in Apple’s favour is that they’ve created a product that has watchmaker’s credentials. The Hodinkee watch blog declared the Apple Watch to be a bona fide time-piece, from the overall design, through to the straps, the astronomy face and the rotating crown. The review makes a convincing case for the Apple Watch as a genuine watch. Following the official launch in March 2015, commentators generally agreed that the Watch meets the stylish credentials that consumers are looking for. However, the watchmakers blog pointed out after the launch, Apple will not be in the high end $17,000 Edition, but rather, from shifting a large amount of $500 mid-range watches.

It’s not just the existing watch makers – brands from Motorola to Huwei have also launched equally attractive smart pieces. This is not the first time that Apple has entered an existing market saturated with products. Aside from the brief partnership with Motorola, Apple had never launched a phone before the iPhone.  However, when it comes to smartwatches, in spite of some predictions, as the tech analyst Benedict Evans points out, no one really knows the answer. The ultimate questions is whether Apple brand is sufficient to drive the large scale adoption that the company is hoping for.

Why Can’t We Use Mobile to Manage the Ebola Virus?

I recently spoke at an event about the role of mobile and big data. The two most useful examples related to health. The first was how the movement of mobile phones in Kenya helps to identify the movement of mosquitos and thus the spread of Malaria. The second was how Swedish and US researchers used mobile movements track people in the Haiti disaster area, and the number who had left subsequently. From this they could identify the number of missing people.

Could the same approach be made to manage the spread of Ebola? If health organisations could use location from the mobile operators it would be possible to see where people  from infected areas have moved to (including overseas). From this they could spot where the virus might appear next. That could deliver a much faster response and to isolate the outbreaks more quickly. Just a thought. Or maybe it’s already being done?

Mobile and The Big Data Question?

How can brand marketers leverage ‘big data’ to engage more users? That’s pretty much the question that I was asked to speak about recently at the DMA. The explosion of mobile is certainly creating a lot of data, from active channels such as social media updates or sharing, to passive data such as location services or WiFi connections. However, using that information in brand marketing is not that simple. Whilst it’s straight forward on a technical level, but even where individuals are not identified, they are wary of intrusion because mobile devices are so personal. Perhaps the answer lies in focusing on the user, being useful and delivering a better service. The best examples of this come not form brands, but from using mobile data to bring improvements in areas such as healthcare.

The following Slideshare is from my talk, ‘Mobile and The Big Data Question’.

A Wearable Engagement? Two Things Brands Need Consider

There’s been plenty of talk about the future of wearable computing. Both major manufacturers (such as Samsung and Sony) and start-ups (such as Pebble and Fitbit) have been producing a range of fitness tracking, smartwatches and the occasional pair of smart glasses (think Google Glass). It’s also generated plenty of hype, where the talk has been vastly in excess of the actually uptake. In spite of this, wearable devices will still impact on our consumer lives. Brands are already thinking about how they can use this as a channel to deliver service or engagement to customers. It’s not easy though. With so many devices appearing, we will see consumers adopting the right devices for their needs, personal preference and budget. Through that, we will see each user with a unique technology eco system – no one will be the same. This raises a few thorny issues, that I’ve blogged about elsewhere, that may lead to the inevitable brand marketing fails.

Data and Privacy

Dull though it might sound, the whole issue of collecting data and user privacy is a major challenge. Brand marketers love collecting ‘data’. The more the better (it’s often used as a KPI). Wearables are great at generating data. Lots of it. However, brands need to be careful how they use it. If you think of mobile devices personal and unshared, then wearables are likely to be even more so. Think of what they do. Tracking things like health, for example. It’s unlikely we would want to share that information with a brand. Not only that, but too much marketing may simply lead to consumer fatigue. Read more here

The Right Content

Whether it is for performance or engagement reasons, content marketing has become the core strategy for many businesses. At the moment we think of content very much in terms of delivering to ‘screens’. In the world of wearables, it’s not always about screens; in the future brands will need to think of content in terms of touching, feeling and hearing. Read more here

The world of wearables is an exciting, but a largely beta one. These are just two examples of the challenges to brands, but there will be many more along the way.

 

 

No One Wants to Steal Your Crappy Idea*

The other week I delivered a short presentation to a major software company – it was a meeting where I would share some ideas and insight around innovation. Someone met me outside and handed me a non-disclosure agreement to sign before I entered the building. I happily put my scribble on it because it confirmed one thing to me. There would be nothing of any interest or significance that would be disclosed to me.

Whilst I can understand the point of an NDA for commercially sensitive information, such as financial or sales figures, asking for confidentiality for an idea is pointless. They cannot be copyrighted, and enforcing non-disclosure is very difficult. I would take the opposite view and argue, instead, in favour of disclosure. Good ideas should be shared. That is part of the innovation process.

NDAs are popular with start-ups. They are convinced that their ideas are so amazing that anyone who hears them will ‘steal’ them and try to make money off it.

This is totally nuts for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, an idea is exactly that. It’s an idea. It’s not a product or a service. Right now in cities such as London, New York or San Francisco there are thousands of start-ups desperately trying to raise money to commercialise their ideas. I know. I’ve just been through a start-up incubation programme and met a lot of these guys. Raising investment is hard. Really hard. In particular, investors don’t invest in ideas. They invest in businesses. Start-ups need to create a viable product or service, boot-strap the initial stages (that usually means living off baked beans for a while), find some clients or build a massive audience, and then jump through endless hoops before there is the slightest sniff of investment money. To think that someone will run off with ‘your’ idea and make millions from it is therefore far fetched.

Secondly, as a general rule, the longer the NDA, the crappier the idea. I recently heard about someone who claimed to have the most fantastic concept for an app. Before telling even their closest friends they made them sign a detailed NDA. And the app? It was for making gift wish-lists (now why didn’t Amazon think of that?).

The fact is that ideas are best when they are shared. The crappy ones are quickly thrown out, and the good ones are refined and developed. There’s a great TED talk from Steven Johnston about innovation (http://youtu.be/0af00UcTO-c) where he explains how coffee houses were a place of discourse and the development of ideas in Victorian Britain. Perhaps that’s what start-ups should be doing right now?

So why do so many start-ups insist on trying to protect their ideas? I think that for these people, NDAs act as a form of validation (and probably spurred on by the kind of secrecy that Apple loves). Getting others to sign them is a way of saying ‘our idea is really worth something’, even though it’s probably crap. And maybe those people who sign the NDAs help to maintain the delusion. Eventually, I hope that people will realise that ideas are better shared. Look at what Google does. They put all of their products out in Beta and take plenty of feedback. Look at the amazing scientific ideas that came out of sharing ideas in the coffee shops in 19th Century England.

(Here are some of my crappy ideas. I’m trying to get them all off the ground – please feel free to help me.)

*I think I borrowed the title for this blog from something I read a while back. I can’t find it, but here’s something on a very similar theme: http://ruidelgado.com/2013/11/12/steal-your-startup-idea/

Don’t Expect Wearable Tech to Catch on Just Yet

At the recent tech shows, SES, MWC and now SXSW, the big talk was around wearable devices. However, they are not that new.  We’ve had wearables for decades, in the form of:TV Camera

All of these can be categorized as either accessories or single task devices. In many ways, today’s generation of wearables are really not that different. In terms of use, is a Pebble Watch really that different to a Bluetooth earpiece, for example?

Predictions for wearable sales show growing numbers:

Sounds like a lot? Compare that to smartphones, where 456m were sold in the third quarter in 2013, making sales of close to 1 billion per year. To give wearable uptake a bit more context, think about the rapid adoption rates of iPads or apps. There’s a long way to go for wearables.

I think there are three primary reasons why wearable uptake will be so slow:

This last point is the greatest barrier to adoption. Whilst online news and blogging sites are full of technologists who love all the gadgets, that doesn’t seem to represent the majority. Most people just aren’t that bothered. We love our smartphones, which have become the centre of our digital lives. Health is certainly one area where wearables can offer real benefits, but aside from specific applications, wearables have a long way to go before they become truly useful.

Bluetooth – The Revenge

Remember Bluetooth marketing? Well it’s back, kind of, in the form of Beacons and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).  It’s a proximity device that connects to smartphones via BLE and can send information and take payments seamlessly. There was much talk in marketing circles about the potential of Apple’s iBeacon, but what are the possibilities for marketers? And is it a realistic proposition?

At 2013’s launch of the iPhone 5S/C one feature slipped by barely noticed – iBeacons. The system makes use of a function called Bluetooth Low Energy. It has been available in high end smartphones for a few years, and unlike its earlier predecessor, it uses tiny amounts of power to connect to nearby devices. Beacons are small units (2-3cm long) that can be powered off a lithium watch battery for a couple of years. These can then be situated around a store and send data to and from smartphones via an app.

Imagine I go in to a department store, and I have their app on my smartphone. As I enter it, a Beacon picks up my presence and alert pops up on my mobile to tell me of an offer in a particular department. As I reach the relevant department, the app tells me where the product is. If I decide to purchase, then I can simply confirm that through the app. At the till, a photo pops up to confirm my identity and I leave the store. For many brands, that kind of scenario seems to offer a great solution to problems such as ‘showrooming’. It allows them to have a consumer conversation precisely at the point of purchase.

The system has already been tested by Shopkick in Macy’s  and will shortly be rolled out to over 100 Amerian Eagle Stores. . There are also companies such as Estimote who are supplying beacons that can be cheaply purchased. Some commentators have suggested that they will become an important, distruptive technology this year

Of course, Beacons are not without their problems, many of them are similar to the old-style Bluetooth. For starters, the handset needs to have the right features available; BLE and location services turned on, and a relevant app installed (according to TNS, around 35% of people in the UK use the Bluetooth feature on their handset). But as with other marketing technologies, there are also issues of user permissions and expectations. Whilst Beacons can be used to precisely monitor and guide customers through a store, the question is whether they will find this acceptable. For example, will consumers allow their photo to pop-up on the store till in order to allow them to make an automated payment on their smartphone? Given recent privacy issues from the NSA to the WiFi tracking in London, it is unlikely that consumers will trust brands enough to allow it (there will be the inevitable cry of ‘Minority Report’).

In many ways, Beacons are a slightly more targeted version of Bluetooth marketing. Some people think it could change the world,  but history suggests that the take up by consumers will be pretty small.