Monday, 23 September 2013

Can the iPhone 5s push biometrics into mass appeal?

Until the announcement of the iPhone 5s' finger print scanner or 'Touch ID', you were more likely think of Biometric technologies at an airport or with your passport than on your phone. That's because historically, the technology has only really consistently made mainstream news when added or adopted to immigration procedures and passports, normally holding facial data and/or fingerprints. Despite this, biometric identification has evolved and made its way to a variety of locations in the last decade, from to Disneyland's fingerprinting on entry to identifying high value customers in retail and even processing payment with your face alone. However, the opportunities such technology can provide are counterbalanced by concerns about privacy and data security, as the possibilities for widespread consumer biometric uses are consistently dogged by concerns about who stores your data.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

3D printing is becoming more tangible and so are its copyright problems

3D printing, like many emerging technologies, is a great opportunity slowly finding a myriad of problems to solve. The decreasing costs and increasing quality of 3D printers, driven by groups ranging from Makerbot and Formlabs down to Maplin’s budget Velleman K8200, has meant that the hardware is becoming increasingly accessible. Companies such as UPS are also increasingly focusing on making 3D printing accessible through their network of locations, negating the need for hardware investment. Meanwhile websites such as Thingiverse and technology such as 3D digitizers and extrapolation technology are creating more and more things of which to print and innovators are creating the amazing and the worrying. With operating system support coming in version 8.1 of Windows 8 and brands such as DVV, Amazon, Nokia
and others expanding the way the technology is used, 3D printing looks poised to move further from industry buzz word to tangible results.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Telepresence and Advertising: Short Term Gimmick, Possible Long Term Opportunity

Telepresence robots have long been the domain of the back of the business section news article, covering various advancements made by Cisco and others in creating a viable robotic solution to working from home but being in the office. More often than not however, the reality of such solutions has been derided over adopted, as in sitcoms such as the ‘Big Bang Theory’. While guiding a robot around the office and video conferencing on the fly may not be common place, or even free from ridicule, the technology has recently been implemented in two interesting advertising campaigns by San Pellegrino and Coca-Cola Israel. 

San Pellegrino’s ‘3 Minutes in Italy’ campaign utilized telepresence robots to allow Facebook users to control a sandwich boarded and branded robot as they explore the village of Taormina in Sicily. Users were able to interact with locals through video conference, with audio being automatically translated, as they were given a guided tour of the city. The campaign also offered live video from a drone of the city from the sky, but clearly the main attraction here was the ability to interact with the locals. The campaign, while arguably limiting its scale, used telepresence to bring to life the Italian brand values conveyed by San Pellegrino in a novel and engaging way. 

Coca-Cola Israel recently deployed similar technology to allow Israeli teenagers to attend their ‘Summer of Love’ festival when not able to go in person. The robots were similar in set-up to San Pellegrino’s campaign, but allowed users to travel around the music festival, interact with festival-goers and watch bands. The campaign generated PR coverage for both the festival and the brand in a way that extended the technology’s use. 

For both campaigns, the issue of scalability quickly relegates the use of telepresence to a gimmick on first look, despite the possibility for earned media and PR amplification. Though scalability isn’t likely to be overcome in any use of telepresence advertising, campaigns such as San Pellegrino highlight the opportunities for long-term use over more tactical activations such as Coca-Cola. Using robots to bring consumers to the home of San Pellegrino, if only for a limited campaign this time, highlights how brand values can be brought to life through this novel experience for web users in longer ways. Going forward, similar technology could be used to bring other destinations to life consistently, from luxury car factories for perspective buyers online or in dealership, to possible hotel guests examining a resort, with scale coming from long term consistent usage of the tech. Any brand with a location to bring to life, and the time to organize a feasible amount of engagement, could consider a possible telepresence solution. So while cowboy hat wearing robots might not be ferrying Jack Daniel's enthusiasts around Lynchburg anytime soon, it isn't beyond the realm of possibility.

Monday, 19 August 2013

How Smart Watches Can Succeed: By Knowing What Not To Offer...

Growing up, I saw the movie 'Dick Tracy' and as most kids who saw his wrist watch phone, I really wanted one of my own. This was a case of  expectation and reality not quite meeting up, as the watch I ended up getting from the 90's Toys-R-Us was less the size of a time piece and more a full sized 'walkie-talkie' with a velcro bracelet attached to it. Incidentally, this was one of the last watches I owned, as mobile phones came in a few years later and fixed my need for a time piece, something I was quite happy to adopt. These two stories are quite coincidental currently, as discussion around major manufacturers getting into the 'smart watch' subsector of wearable technology stands ready to attempt to usher an updated type of 'Dick Tracy' watch to market and its all because of smart phones.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Elon Musk's Hyperloop: The rise of the Open Source CEO?

The news of the publishing of Elon Musk's proposal for his Hyperloop transport proposal has spurred a bit of discussion on its feasibility, impact on mass transport and how it would fit within the wider market. While many different pieces have begun to discuss this in depth, reading Musk's 54 page published 'alpha' plan PDF, what has struck me is the way in which he has gone about releasing the idea and his approach to it being completed.Musk's last page show's his open approach to developing this idea, as he's putting the entire design and concept out for someone to implement with him. In interviews he's stated that Tesla and Space X is taking up his time (a rumored 100 hour work week) and that Hyperloop needs someone else to take up the challenge.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

How will Google Chromecast fit in the market?

The launch of Google’s Chromecast aggressively opens a new avenue for the brand towards a presence in the consumer’s living room. At $35, the HDMI dongle allows users to cheaply stream content from Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, the Chrome browser and photos albums to their TVs utilizing the Chrome Operating system. Unlike SMART TV interfaces or connected devices which feature remotes and onscreen menus, Chromecast uses a consumer’s existing devices as a second screen to control it, meaning content can be streamed and controlled from Android phones and tablets, iPhones, iPads and Chrome for Mac and Windows. The ability to stream content to a Chromecast device happens within a second screen app, indicating Google is relying on developers to add functionality to existing apps over attempting to create native versions on their device. Google has positioned Chromecast as a light weight, straightforward and affordable solution to making any TV ‘smart’.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Closing Innovation Gap or "Why Apple won't be innovative in 5 years time"

This is more innovative...

Innovation has always meant different things depending on who’s doing the innovating. Apple’s iPhone, Facebook and a myriad of electronics companies creating ever clearer screens are all considered ‘innovative’ in their own context. However, landing on the moon, the ISS, mapping the human genome and finding evidence of the Higgs Boson are as well, but NASA, CERN and others aren’t going to be front of mind when you ask a consumer to name the most innovative groups they can think of. This is because the scale at which we judge ‘innovation’ has historically always
Than this....right?
depended on who was delivering it. The bigger the organization, the bigger the innovation they can deliver and the bigger the requirement for it to be considered ‘innovative’ by the wider public.

In addition, the bigger the scale of an innovation, the bigger the possibility a normal person on the street won’t see it as relevant to their daily lives. Mapping the human genome may have required going through 3.3 million base pairs (and classifies as a mega project), but the iPhone in a consumer’s hand has changed the way they behaved in the last 5 years.
I’d wager which comes to mind first if asked to describe innovation. The discrepancy between the innovation in the private sector and the wider public sector delivers isn’t necessarily a bad thing for anyone involved (unless you’re NASA asking for more funding) as it has shaped the way both brands behave and consumers choose for quite some time, especially within sectors such as consumer electronics. In short, the gap has caused consumer focused companies to solve ‘smaller’ problems with innovation and the public sector to solve ‘big’ ones through larger resource expenditure.

This relationship can be described as a scale: on one side, you have companies such as Apple, Samsung, IBM, Google and Microsoft, which deliver varying levels of small to midsized innovation relevant to consumers on a regular basis. These companies iterate technological development sometimes and leap ahead others, disrupting both the market and their competition for a time when they do so. On the other side of this scale, you have governments, large research organizations and others delivering large scale innovation at a pace that is slower and less relative to consumers than ‘innovative’ companies. In between these two groups is a gap, which, at least so far in the age of computing, has separated these segments as a nearly impassable barrier.

This ‘innovation gap’ kept companies from going too far away from the consumer; as resource, business risk and time frames meant that feasibility tied a private company’s ‘innovation’ to the consumer and what the market would 'bear’. If a company goes just far enough from the market at the right time to disrupt with innovation, you have Apple making the iPhone; go too far and you have the Newton (apologies to the folk(s) still using these) or the 3DO (feel free to swap with the Atari Jaguar). Companies aim to place products as close to the 'gap' as possible, using communications to maneuver slightly and outpace the market in both product and perception. Alternatively, the public sector, to varying degrees, operates on a mission to only solve the ‘big problems’ on the other side of the gap, mostly because no one else is  seen to be able to innovate on that scale.

In recent years however, technology, government funding and changes in the culture of organizations
Let's see how many people doubt the moon landing
when you can go to low earth orbit on a consumer flight...
have seen this ‘innovation gap’ being closed. One only needs to look to SpaceX as an example of a tech company going out to solve problems that 10-15 years ago would have been clearly across the gap. While this may be a confluence of government bringing these organizations across and technology making new possibilities more accessible, such as in the case of Virgin Galactic, companies squarely associated with the consumer market are raising the bar on innovation across the gap.

The example of consumer opportunities around space travel begs the question, “How innovative is being a smart phone maker, when Virgin can shoot you into orbit and SpaceX is edging towards the Moon and Mars?” Space travel by Virgin is much more relevant to the consumer than it was when NASA did it and illustrates the risk and opportunity facing many tech brands today. Brands are doing bigger and bigger things, closing the innovation gap each time stories of their successes get out. Spacetravel, wearable computing and others are being driven by the private sector and will continue to up the ante on ‘innovation’ that is not only relevant to the consumer, but delivering the future they’ve long expected.

So why is a bridging perception of ‘innovation’ dangerous to consumer brands? The halo of being an ‘innovative’ company can be the lifeblood of a competitive advantage outside of the product itself, especially for tech companies. Competing on features alone is costly and dangerous, meaning brand is a vital tool to build. No one wants to buy old technology and buying from an ‘innovative’ brand speaks to the consumer’s perception that they will get a reasonable amount of time before obsolescence from the product and thus value for a premium.

Never bring an iPhone to a "balloon powered internet" fight...
The earlier space travel example may not illustrate a direct threat to Apple or Samsung’s dominance of the mobile phone market for example, but it does speak to the ethos of similar organizations that could be. Google [x], producers of the self-driving car, glass and more recently, project Loon are part of a direct competitor to Apple and while Google’s phones themselves don’t bear much resemblance to the tech featured in many moon shot projects, they do help to build the company as a brand that is innovative in a way that is bigger than competitors. This combination model of reality focused tech provider and future facing tech leader speaks to the way brands can build a perception of ‘innovation’ in years to come. Keeping one eye on ‘reality’ (as well as iterating current products at the pace of the market) can work in concert with doing ‘bigger things’ as a brand to speak to an organization’s thirst for innovation. Together this set-up uses a big vision, substantiated by long term projects featuring  less consumer relevance, as a sort of ‘halo’ product, speaking to the quality of more tangible, but less innovative, iterative products currently available.

Its advances like this that support the claim that a company like Apple won’t be seen as  ‘innovative’, at least in its current format, in 5 years time. Apple represents one of the best examples of how tech companies currently do business and why this will have to change as the innovation gap closes. Apple’s model is largely built on iteration after the initial launch of a product, as seen with the iPhone. While the phone itself initially laid out a clear consumer shift towards smart phones, the following models have had relatively incremental upgrades. Features such as Siri, Retina Display and the App Store were, for their respective launches, ‘innovative’ by today’s market’s standards. However, when we hold them against what companies with larger ambitions are doing, these features begin to seem much less ‘innovative’. The growth of competitor market share in Android and to a lesser extent Windows Phone also highlights how iteration alone begins to erode an ‘innovative’ perception over time. As shown similarly with the iPad, an initial dominance of a segment, in this case tablets, has been eroded by competitors entering and replicating iterative feature releases. One can wonder how minor improvements on a product yearly will stack up against a competitor that makes a similar phone and has taught a car to drive.

It is this competitive pressure, coupled with the increasing bar for ‘innovation’ that will force companies such as Apple to change if they wish to maintain an ‘innovative’ perception or shift to  succeed completely on other merits. While these brands can handle the more ‘realistic’ side of the business well, using various levels of iteration, they must work on using the organization and communications to tell a bigger story about where the brand is going. These two factors together, smaller tangible innovation and long term ‘big’ brand innovation will begin to bridge closer, but can combine to provide a competitive perception in both the short and long term.

To do this however, especially in consumer electronics, companies must change the way they tell stories to consumers about their R&D and products. Long term roadmaps shouldn’t be hidden as competitive advantage, but instead celebrated as ‘moon shots’ in where the company states their role in moving technology forward over the next 10 years. Brands that have the capability to start to develop the ‘big innovations’ that position them as ‘thought leaders’ for the future should, safe in the knowledge that the risk of revealing these ideas and experimenting openly will be the cost of business going forward.  In our Apple example, one can only wonder what the brand’s story could be about the future if it took a similar approach to more publicly developing it and going forward, this may be the required case. To reiterate from earlier, its not that Apple won't be making great things in 5 years, but given the changes in consumer perception, the company's culture of secrecy around a roadmap will have to change to maintain their brand image. The developer's conferences of old which served as reveals to the world of new found products and brand direction must give way to becoming continuous points in a journey of innovation, not discrete surprises.

Finally, while every brand isn't Apple, this theory works for any that get by on the perception of 'innovation'. Not every brand has to promise to put someone on the moon in 20 years time, but they  should strive to make the same equivalent claim for their product sector if they want to keep up with the rising tide of ‘innovation’. Most every brand can tell a big story about doing big things if they want to, the challenge is doing it in a way where people will listen.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Initial Thoughts: The Xbox One Launch

The Xbox one launch was interesting, but not that surprising in tone, especially when compared back with the PS4 launch. The difference in tones boils down to the way both companies approach ‘gaming’ and ‘entertainment’. Sony’s presentation was much more focused on the pure ‘gaming’ elements a console can offer and supporting features that would enhance that experience. Microsoft, as they both stated and implied throughout the presentation see their opportunity as part of the wider entertainment offering a console can supply. The company seemed to do a balancing act between providing enough credentials to support those looking for reassurance of a next generation gaming experience (especially through showing how the next Call of Duty looked on the hardware in game) and laying out their vision for how one device can bring convergence into the living room beyond what we’ve already seen.

The Kinect’s upgraded functionality was interesting, but the fact that it was phrased as the device hub between controller, user, system and other possible peripherals/devices was even more telling. Microsoft integrating elements of the vision for UX behind Windows 8 was inevitable, but the introduction of ‘snap mode’ allowing multitasking in a clear fashion speaks to the company’s view of this as an intuitive computing device and set top box for the living room, with gesture and voice becoming more refined for user input. The view of the Xbox One as an overall entertainment device, especially with the focus on DVR possibilities, almost framed live TV in the same way previous console launches talked about launch game titles. The referenced partnerships with the NFL and the adaption of premium video content from the Halo TV series indicates Microsoft can see the console’s possibility to create more active viewing experiences and a more intuitive ‘social TV’ experience.

Up until now, social TV and more engaged activities while viewing content have always been the domain of ‘second screen’ devices such as tablets, mobiles and laptops, simply because of ease of use. However, Microsoft’s mentions of smart glass and their rather clear moves towards creating a more refined way to interact with the console and on-screen content seems to indicate that they are taking their ambition to make the Xbox One the next ‘water cooler’ seriously.

From a gaming perspective, Microsoft said enough to reassure consumers that the graphics, titles and experience will be more than iterative, but the wide focus of the console may alienate those looking for more dedicated gaming announcements at launch.

From a wider consumer electronics perspective, Microsoft laid out plans for an ambitious home experience delivered by its next generation device, which many will wait to have substantiated in the coming months.

From an advertising point of view, the console looks to make steps forward in the way brands can target and speak to consumers, given the recognition for users Kinect will feature and the integration with live TV. The value of Microsoft’s TV integration, as seen with the NFL, will hinge on how clearly the company can create a frame work for similar content integration partnerships. The Kinect's ability to recognize users and auto-log in brings up interesting opportunities for addressable advertising and content, especially with Microsoft's announced mixture of video content and gaming.

Overall, Microsoft delivered something expected, while still giving a few surprises. Clearly going for the middle of the road, ‘all-in-one’ market for the console, the months between E3 and Christmas will be interesting to see how Sony and Microsoft position themselves relative to each other.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

How do you market to a refrigerator: Smart devices and the upcoming ‘second market’ for advertisers?

The roles of connected devices are growing within our lives. From smart appliances to the refinement of in car computer connectivity, more and more of the objects we encounter daily allow for connectivity and control. However, what lies beyond this generation of smart devices may truly change the way we buy certain products as consumers and how marketers and advertisers drive purchase.

The next evolution of smart devices will not only allow connectivity and control, but will also predict what we need before we need it. The proliferation of the data sources available to connect to means that we are facing a possible revolution in the way we consider functionality. Whereas now, a smart washing machine may allow for a consumer to start it via mobile, in the near future we will expect this and more. When the appliance breaks we will not only expect a notification on our mobiles, but also for the device to have already sourced a list of local repairmen, found those that are available at the same time as you are (via your calendar) and recommended the best price for servicing.

Smart devices won’t only play a role in curating data to enable quicker consumer choices, but they may also take care of routine purchase. For example, a smart refrigerator could not only interface with the products within it to know when your routine purchases need replacing, but it could compare prices against online grocers, schedule times for delivery when you have indicated and use one or multiple suppliers to arrange the best price. This possibility of device led purchase begins to create a new market opportunity. Advertisers will need to drive more emotional, less routine product discovery and purchase through existing marketing channels to consumers, but more rational, information led purchase through smart devices as they grow in ubiquity.

The opportunities and changes posed by a growth in smart devices don’t apply universally across all products. Instead, the types of products and services affected are more mass and routine than luxury. Goods and services that heavily utilize emotional factors such as brand (e.g. luxury goods) or are ‘one-off’ purchases are unlikely to bear the brunt of a change in purchasing behaviour. However, for products grounded in at least a semi-rational and routine purchase, the growth of a comparable smart device (e.g. groceries and a refrigerator, clothing and a washing machine, servicing and appliances or a car, utilities and a home coordinating computer) creates two interconnected consumers: human and device.

For marketers focusing on these devices in the future, this shift means expanding information exchanges and connectivity to provide the largest footprint for connected devices to interface. Focusing on this mechanical market isn’t necessarily new for any agencies or brands, as any SEO will attest to. In fact, the same principles that have been important in driving site visibility within search engines will be important for reaching those connected devices that are informing or executing purchase online.

The presence that sells to a device doing routine shopping will not be a website, but an API, stripping away the trapping of design and style to provide pure, structured data on requested products and services. Successful APIs providing data will need to work quickly, provide timely results and interconnect with other data sources that can help tailor prices and products to make the most favourable rational conditions for a device. APIs will gain visibility through open standards and coordination with manufacturers, but will need more to differentiate.

Differentiation must come from APIs using data sources to make the most favourable rational ‘sell’ for searching devices, in similar way to how Sainsbury currently uses Nectar data. If APIs can predict which items a device will be looking for or when they are considering purchase, sales promotion activity can focus on lowering the rational cost of items at specific times, increasing the attractiveness of a retailer to a machine. Traditional direct marketing mechanics will still prove valuable, but your posted coupon pack may instead be emailed to your appliances. In addition, using data sources outside of just price can help to differentiate brands, such as using social data to prove quality through recommendations or scoring.

Consumer focused marketing may also change as smart devices becomes more refined. The focus on consumer marketing may narrow, moving away from direct response price-led messages aimed at driving frequency of purchase and instead just on driving initial trial. The goal of speaking to a consumer in essence becomes driving trial of a brand to get on a ‘repeat’ or ‘routine’ purchase list and then minimizing the reasons why the consumer would remove you from that set. If smart devices take over more of the routine and rational parts of purchasing, building a brand around a product becomes important only in initial trial and as a defensive move against other brands edging a product out of the ‘routine’ purchase set, ensuring that the consumer passively accepts the chance or recommendation of repeat purchase through a device.

For example, a car in need of servicing and connected to the internet may look at APIs providing information on the cost and availability of dealerships and mechanics to provide the service. The car’s driver may make the final decision on which available options are best, but will agree to the best priced option unless given another reason to, such as brand loyalty. In this example, brand still holds some sway, as a device is curating choices instead of executing them.

In a device led purchase example, the consumer behaviour is more passive, such as a connected fridge using several online grocers to complete the weekly shop; mixing and matching orders to get the cheapest and fastest possible combination of grocery deliveries. The role of the consumer is only to preclude certain grocers due to previous experiences or brand preference, but both of these motivations need to be more powerful than the default behaviour of accepting what has been suggested or ordered.

So should we expect direct mail addressed to your microwave coming shortly? Probably not. Quite a few things need to occur before this can become a reality. Manufacturers need to continue to drive development of smart devices, refining the experience and enhancing the variety of connectivity available in the consumer’s life. Consumers must make the smart device market more defined through adoption, as well as allowing their data to be accessed to enhance the predictive experience. Finally, advertisers and brands must give consumers a reason to share their data and redefine the way it is used, moving from warehousing and the privacy concerns it entails to a more just-In-time system of continuous access across various organizations.

While the challenges required in creating a generation of smart devices to curate and decide your purchases is numerous, it may not be as far off as you think. Google Now and apps such as Tempo have shown the value of predictive functionality while the required technology and data is rapidly becoming available, awaiting adoption. So, while its not yet be time to hold a refrigerator focus group about the latest Yeo Valley 30 second ad, it might be soon enough.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Sunday, 28 April 2013