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.

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.

Are Smartwatches The New Sandwich Toaster?

There is a theory that most sandwich toasters lie in the cupboard unused (I suspect that you could also include ice cream makers). A sandwich toaster is exciting (ish) for the first few months as you discover all of the random things you can shove between two bits of cooked bread. After that, it largely takes up space in the cupboard.

It looks like smartwatches could go the way of the sandwich toaster. Someone recently told me that he had a Motorola smartwatch but didn’t bother wearing it. The watch was decent enough, but after a few months of use, he realised that there was little need for it. He wasn’t alone. A study in 2014 found that 50% of fitness trackers were left in the drawer.

If smartwatches want to remain on people’s wrists they have a number of challenges to overcome:

  • The devices can be very buggy – in some watches, the software has simply not been up to the job. Apple’s Watch will work superbly, but the predicted 18 hour battery life is going to make constant usage tricky
  • Fashions change – unlike a phone, the look of a smartwatch is absolutely key to its adoption. They are firmly in the accessories market and the technology companies are competing against the likes of Fossil, Swatch and Tag Hauer. And all of them are competing with the fickleness of fashion
  • Smartwatches are not essential, core devices – whilst I can’t imagine leaving home without my phone, I don’t see any real inconvenience if I forget to wear my smartwatch. Sure, some people get addicted to them but a combination of the small screen size and limited functionality puts them in danger of being novelty items.

Many commentators have pointed out that it’s the apps that will make or break adoption. Simply reducing phone apps to a mini screen is not going to hack it. Developers need to think differently for a more personal, wearable channel. Without some killer apps, there’s a possibility that smartwatches will become a short-lived fad. With the impending delivery of Apple’s Watch, it’s certainly exciting times in the world of wearables. The company has been a game-changer with their phones and tablet devices. However, it remains to be seen whether they can make the smartwatch enough of a necessity that it doesn’t end up languishing in the cupboard next to the sandwich maker.