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.

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 wrong 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

Whilst some are calling the iWatch a game changer, many tech observers have missed the point. The iWatch 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 iWatch? 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 iWatch 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 iWatch a sufficient status symbol for that marketing? 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 iWatch 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?

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 iWatch 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 iWatch as a genuine watch. An odd press release from Guess also suggests that Apple have made a significant entry (or threat, even) to the market. In A Letter to CEO of Apple, From CEO of Guess Watches, Cindy Livingston said:

‘We personally welcome this new challenge to remain relevant to our young, sexy and adventurous consumers.’

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. Whilst the success of the iWatch as a tech product remains to be seen, when it comes to a fashion audience maybe Apple have got it right.

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’.

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?

A few years ago, it occurred to me that there were a growing number of smartphones that were always on and always connected. Yet they weren’t used for at least 8 hours per day. My idea? Why not use those spare hours to process some useful data? Say, genetic data that might be used to find cures for degenerative diseases or cancer? As with all ideas, this is not entirely original. SETI@home does that with PCs to identify galaxies. And looking at some of the open source software to manage the data (such as BOINC), apps had been built before. However, I felt my concept had sufficient benefit to be worth exploring. I spoke to many people and shared it as much as possible, as I wanted the idea to develop and become a reality. I got some people in the health sector interested, and found some others willing to develop the app. A copywriter friend even came up with a name, WeCure. Getting the scientists involved proved trickier though. In the meantime, Samsung released a similar app for Android (http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/13/5409716/samsung-backed-alarm-clock-targets-cancer-other-diseases-using). In a world of sharing ideas, Samsung’s app is a good thing. Apart form anything else, it helps me understand how to build ours better. One feature of my app concept was that users can share how much data they donated through social media – ‘I just gave 1gig to help cure cancer’. Apart from helping to spread the idea, it also rewards users by publicly showing that they have done something good. I’m still plugging away, refining my idea and trying to get it off the ground.

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. Oh, and if you know any helpful genetic scientists, then please send them my way.

*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.