I’ve talked before about the new ways marketers are trying to engage with consumers. This ranges from QR codes to augmented reality and relies on using the one device we always have with us – the smartphone. Being able to pinpoint exactly where someone is, for example the specific aisle of a shop, means they can serve up relevant marketing material that could turn a browser into a buyer. It is no wonder that the likes of Apple and Google are investing in technology that can help make indoor mapping more granular and detailed.
The latest technology to be touted to drive engagement is the beacon. Essentially a small, low cost, Bluetooth-enabled box that can be quickly fitted inside a building, it enables companies to send messages to suitably equipped smartphones in the near vicinity. As beacon technology is built into the latest Apple products, there are already over 200 million iOS devices out there that can act as both receivers and transmitters.
The possibilities are getting marketers, particularly in the US, extremely excited. Companies can automatically send relevant offers if you are in particular areas of a shop, such as in front of their products (or, if you’re being sneaky, in front of your rivals’ products). Airports or train stations could send automatic updates on delays or gate/platforms changes. Beacons can be used to measure dwell time in specific areas and provide offers of help. William Hill is planning to use beacons to send in-app betting messages at the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival, while outdoor advertising companies are looking at how it can drive engagement with adverts. Mobile phone networks EE, O2 and Vodafone have invested to create a joint venture – Weve, to target the space, with Eat trialling their technology. The reason for the interest is that essentially beacons promise the same digital tracking possibilities as online, but in the physical world.
However there are a still a couple of elephants in the room when it comes to mass market adoption. Consumers need to switch on Bluetooth, download an app, enable location services for the app and opt-in to receive notifications. So, even though iPhones now come with Bluetooth on as standard you still need to jump through a lot of hoops to be beacon ready.
And then there’s privacy. Perhaps you don’t want marketers to know whereabouts in the shop you were loitering or what you are buying at a detailed level. As the success of social media and loyalty cards have shown, people are willing to give up some of their privacy in return for a better experience and targeted offers, but none of these are as instant and real-world as beacons zapping a message straight onto your screen in real-time. At the moment all the advantages seem to be skewed towards retailers, with very little concrete benefit for consumers that will make them want to go through the rigmarole of making their phones ‘beaconable’.
At a time when consumers are just about getting their heads round paying for things by swiping cards rather than laboriously typing their PIN, I think beacons have a big job ahead to accelerate consumer adoption. The whole process needs to be made seamless and simple, with a focus on the benefits, rather than looking like another way to invade privacy and sell you more stuff. Only then will beacons deliver the insight that marketers and businesses are looking for.
This week’s takeover of Nokia’s handset division by Microsoft is easy to see as a marriage of desperation, or as Robert Peston put it, “two drunks supporting each other at the end of the party.”
Wind the clock back 10 years and the picture was very different. Nokia was dominant in the phone market and Microsoft held a similar position in the desktop/laptop market. The first Windows-powered smartphones were being released, but they were incredibly complex (I know, I had an Orange SPV), essentially transferring the desktop Windows experience to the mobile world. There were a whole raft of other mobile handset providers that have since disappeared or lost their independence – Motorola (now owned by Google), Ericsson, and Siemens.
Two things changed all this – Apple came along and made smartphones easy to use without losing their power and in a linked move, the world embraced mobile with the growth of 3G and wifi. As the existing market titans, with enormous user bases, Microsoft and Nokia couldn’t evolve fast enough to change their business models. The same process happened in previous waves of computing as the world moved from mainframes to mini computers and then PCs; few CEOs have the guts to bin their existing cash cow and launch a radically different business.
So could either of them have done things differently? I’ve talked before about Microsoft’s disastrous attempt to innovate with Windows 8 but you can argue that it didn’t invest enough in mobile early on. If it had combined ease of use and access to compelling content with the power of the SPV (which was heavily subsidised) and made it less ugly it could have had a chance of pre-empting Apple’s rise. But it never seemed to be a priority. And Nokia again seemed to view smartphones as a niche market until very late in the day, focusing on the Communicator which was a high end business tool rather than a consumer-friendly device.
All this means the combined unit has a tough job on its hands and is going to have to focus heavily on innovation and marketing to succeed. Ironically given Apple’s perceived lack of innovation and BlackBerry’s woes there is chance to seize the challenger position and become the quirky, cool alternative to Samsung and the iPhone. This does mean being brave and creating something radical that shakes up the market. Microsoft couldn’t do it with Windows 8 – so can an injection of Finnish thinking make the difference?
Many people spend more time on the internet than they do in face to face or even telephone conversations. But despite the rise of video, we’re not really using all our senses on the internet, missing out on touch and smell. Replicating touch is a difficult one, though I’m sure the porn industry is working on technologies like electronic skin suits that help there.
Smell is (in practice) a bit easier. Everyone understands the power of scents to change our moods – from the multibillion pound perfume industry to supermarkets pumping round the smell of hot bread to get our taste buds salivating. I’m probably not alone in being disappointed that the Bank of Canada has categorically denied that its new plastic bank notes smell of maple syrup. Hundreds of Canadians wrote to the bank, claiming they could smell maple syrup on the maple leaf note – with many asking for the scent to be strengthened.
But experiments in delivering smell via the internet have all, so far, failed to catch on – in fact Google made it the basis of its last April Fool’s joke, with the Google Nose. In the same way that Smell-O-Vision flopped at the cinema, pioneers have vanished into obscurity. All shared a similar approach – a plug in device to your computer that mixed different components to deliver the right smell to match the page you were on or the situation you were in. The key issue is that while you can create any colour from the basic Red, Green, Blue combination, the palette for smell is much wider, meaning the device would have to have an enormous number of odour components inside it.
Latest internet smell technologies are trying to make things simpler. The Mint Digital Foundry launched Olly, essentially a plug in atomiser that you fill with a scent source. You can then set it to spray when a particular internet event occurs (such as receiving an email or a tweet). In Japan, the Chaku Perfume Company has created Chat Perf, an add on scent tank for your iPhone. You can then use the app to ‘send’ the scent to a friend with a tank of their own.
Smell on the internet may be in its infancy, but get it right and the benefits for marketers and internet companies are potentially huge. The scent of lavender on a page encouraging us to buy flowers, the background smell of the sea on a holiday site, the aromas of food on a cookery or restaurant page. The possibilities are endless – as they are for online gaming (smell the fear!), incorporating into mainstream TV or films or identifying your friends on social networks. So, rather than trying to build the next Facebook, entrepreneurs should be looking closer to home for the next big thing. After all, it is as plain as the nose on your face…………
Like a lot of people I’ve given up on wearing a watch during the working day, replacing it with glancing at my phone, tablet or computer. So all the current noise about mooted smart watches from Apple (immediately dubbed the iWatch), Google, Samsung and now Microsoft puzzled me. Why would anyone try and replicate the features of a smart phone on a tiny screen on their wrist – particularly when they were probably carrying their phone in their pocket?
Take the Pebble watch. It essentially syncs with your smartphone and reminds you about your latest tweets, emails and phone calls – a cute accessory but hardly game changing for most people.
But a bit more thinking unlocks why the tech titans think there’s a market out there. The only time I actually wear a watch (except on the few occasions I want to appear smart) is when I go for a run and I use GPS to measure where I’ve gone and exactly how slowly. Essentially I’ve got a wearable sensor around my wrist, rather than a time keeping device.
That’s where the interest will be, not as a smaller second screen for your iPhone, but providing a way of measuring where you are, what you are doing and your vital signs. After all a watch has the benefit of being intimately connected to your person – few people are going to hold their phone to their wrist to measure their pulse. With an aging population, and increasing desire to manage our health, this is where the mass market will be. Add in the Internet of Things and you can see a connected web of wearable sensors managing our lives.
Thinking of the smart watch I’ve come up with five applications where it could be used – from the basic to the far fetched.
- Patient monitoring – both in hospitals and more importantly at home, the watch can send back vital statistics to doctors and monitoring services, raising the alarm if issues occur
- A smart wallet – why get your wallet or Oyster card out when you need to buy something? The watch automatically debits your account as you pass through ticket barriers or pick up that latte.
- Obesity control – measuring calories burned is standard on sports watches, so combine this with a camera and an electric shock buzzer. Not burnt enough calories and reaching for a doughnut? Cue a mild electric shock to remind the wearer of their diet
- Getting your dinner on the table. The watch senses when you’re half an hour from home and sends a signal to your oven to switch it on. Get stuck in traffic and it changes the heat so your dinner isn’t burnt to a crisp
- Surveillance. Very 1984 but just imagine if every smart watch could be tracked by governments – not only allowing them to see where you are but your state of health and everyday activities. Obviously the most far fetched application of all (we all hope)…..
Video games are big business. Whether you measure it on the £1 billion contribution to UK GDP of the industry, or the amount of time my children spend playing Angry Birds, the impact is enormous. In Cambridge alone companies such as Jagex and Frontier Developments employ hundreds of staff, an estimated 10% of the UK’s games developers.
But the era of the blockbuster console game is coming to an end. Despite the recent announcement of the Sony PlayStation 4, more and more games are now played casually on smartphones, tablets or simply online. As the current furore about the in-app charges
run up on iPhones and iPads demonstrates, all of these small payments add up to a big (and ongoing) windfall for developers. Rovio, the creator of Angry Birds, and king of the casual game companies, is allegedly worth as much as fellow Finnish tech company Nokia.
Handheld consoles have suffered – now analysts predict it could be the turn of the big budget gaming devices such as the Microsoft Xbox or Nintendo Wii. Ouya, a new Android-based console is now shipping at the knockdown price of $99 following an $8m Kickstarter funding round. As any gamer/parent will know, it isn’t just cost of the console, but the price of the games that adds up. And the Ouya’s games are expected to be low cost apps as seen on Android devices but beefed up to use the power of the console. Ouya’s not alone, with UK-based PlayJam launching its own portable GameStick Android device.
But there’s a big marketing challenge for these low cost consoles. Casual gamers with a tablet or smartphone need persuading that they should shell out for a separate device, as well as investing in new games, particularly as many already have a PC. Serious gamers will look at the quality of the games available compared to the blockbusters available on big brand consoles while children (a key market for games) want to be able to play the same games as their friends. Additionally the likes of Microsoft and Sony have been working to turn their consoles into home entertainment hubs, acting as the bridge between the living room TV and the internet to try and cement their position in the market. Essentially it is chicken and egg – people won’t buy a console until they know there’s sufficient games available, while serious developers won’t invest until there’s a big enough target market.
I can see two ways for the likes of Ouya to get round this dilemma – and it’ll take bravery and a bit of radical thinking. Firstly, adopt the same business model as casual games themselves – give away the hardware and charge for anything beyond the basic, either as a one off or on a subscriber basis. Risky, but it gets consoles into people’s houses and if they then take 30-40% of each £1.99 spent on a game they will build a subscriber base and some revenues. The second way is to partner with companies with a big brand to bring the hardware prices down to under a tenner. Whether it is a telecoms company (Sky, BT or Virgin Media), a retailer (Amazon, Tesco) or actually an Angry Birds-badged console it would widen the audience beyond the early adopter. The worry here is that as we move to a cloud-based future traditional console makers will go down the same route and already have major brand recognition.
However the gaming wars play out, the old market of monolithic consoles is under serious pressure – now is the time for new business models and smart use of subscription and cloud-based ideas if new comers are going to emulate Rovio, rather than follow the likes of Atari into bankruptcy.
Since time immemorial accurate maps have been crucial to attaining and keeping power. Navigational maps helped first the Portuguese and Spanish, then the English to reach (and annex) new territories across the globe. Later colonialism literally redrew the map of Africa, creating countries where there were none before. Maps are critical in battle and to take stock of your resources and population.
So control of maps brings control over your subjects. As we move into a mobile device dominated future this explains the enormous battle to command mapping in your pocket, using the power of GPS and network connections to find out where you are. Nokia spent $7.7 billion on NAVTEQ, while Google StreetView has seen the search giant survey the world at a granular level. It explains why Apple ditched Google and launched its own ill-fated Maps app on the latest iPhone – the company simply didn’t want to give up control of such vital data to a third party.
Essentially knowing where you are enables companies to better understand your behaviour and target offers that fit your location and background. And that’s the positive news – it now only takes four location data points to identify a mobile user according to new research. Something that law enforcement agencies (and criminals) are no doubt very interested in.
But for all its benefits GPS isn’t as accurate as mapping companies (and advertisers) would like. Particularly in large buildings, such as shopping centres, it doesn’t give pinpoint positioning. Which is why Apple has just paid a reputed $20m for indoor mapping specialist Wifislam, which uses ambient wifi signals to offer maps accurate to 2.5m. With this level of data clever marketers could target you with an offer for Costa as you walk into Starbucks while the police could place you (or at least your phone) at the scene of a crime in a crowded city.
Apple isn’t alone in looking at indoor mapping – Google now features 10,000 floor plans submitted by businesses while Nokia’s Destination Maps product has more than 4,000 locations in 38 countries.
I often bang on about privacy and how marketers need to tread a fine line between providing targeted offers and respecting personal space. And the move to indoor mapping, combined with ways of interacting such as QR codes, augmented reality apps such as Aurasma and Near Field Communications (NFC) mean that the possibilities of tracking, understanding user behaviour and tailoring marketing could become ubiquitous. Except in the countryside, where poor mobile coverage means that if you are lucky it tells you what village you’re actually in.
The future is hyperlocal and mobile – marketers need to embrace this, but make sure that they’re getting buy-in from customers or they risk a privacy backlash from both individuals and regulators.
In an increasingly virtual world it is easy for inventors and start-ups to forget about the importance of good physical product design, and treat it as an afterthought or the packaging for the clever stuff.
And yet I think people have never been more discerning about the whole design of a product, demanding not just that it looks good but that it is intuitive to use and simple to understand. My 3 year old son quickly grasped how to navigate round my iPhone, leading to some unplanned phone calls, but providing a good example for designers to aim at. And the tools are now here that marry product design with innovation, through CAD/CAM systems and photo realistic rendering that creates stunning visual representations of a great idea.
So it is good to see James Dyson, a man who has shown the power of innovative product design to disrupt traditional markets (whether vacuum cleaners or hand dryers) putting his money where his mouth is with his own student design award. Built on a simple premise – design something that solves a problem – it runs in 18 countries and the UK winners have just been announced. What impresses me is a combination of the breadth of the ideas – from a portable room divider for hospitals to a bike seat designed to be more comfortable for women, and their real simplicity. These are products that can be easily understood and used without reading a 100 page manual or undergoing special training. And it looks like a competition worth winning – the global victor (announced on 8th November) is in line to win £10k and gain a real foot up on the ladder towards getting their idea into production.
While it is all well and good for the likes of David Cameron to push for the UK to create the next Facebook, it is vital that we don’t neglect the creation of physical products that are well-designed and fit a market need. After all, one of the key reasons that Apple has become the most valuable company on the planet is through good design across its entire product range. So I think the next generation of start-ups need to heed Dyson’s advice and design something that solves a problem rather than expecting customers to grapple with advanced, but user-unfriendly technology. Make it simple and they will buy.
- Engineers always do the business, Lord Sugar | James Dyson (guardian.co.uk)
- Dyson’s new product still shrouded in mystery (guardian.co.uk)
- Product designer gives patients privacy in hospital (telegraph.co.uk)
- Student inventors battle it out for Dyson award (telegraph.co.uk)
But now the technology seems to be very much coming of age. Last week Orange and Barclaycard announced the UK’s first Near Field Communication (NFC) service, where consumers simply swipe their phone over a reader to pay for low value items. And now Google is poised to announce its own NFC platform, while Apple is reportedly planning to include NFC in the iPhone 5.
The idea is a strong one – why carry around a pocketful of jangling change when you can just wave your phone and buy things? However I think adoption will be slower than predicted – while analysts Forrester predict that 40-50 million NFC equipped phones will be sold in 2011, how many will actually be used in practice? For me, coverage has to be total – if you still need to use cash in your local newsagent you’re not going to leave your wallet at home.
And moving beyond early adopters the biggest fear is going to be privacy – the data you give up on your buying habits will be invaluable to retailers (and the likes of Google). For many people these fears will outweigh the ease of use that NFC brings – remember the protests that greeted the attempted introduction of RFID chips by Tesco and Gillette?
Time for the retail and telecoms industries to be proactive, put in place a code of conduct and head off consumers’ privacy fears before they reach the front page of the Daily Mail……..
- Google to show off mobile wallet (bbc.co.uk)
- Google to finally lift the curtain on its mobile payment plans (venturebeat.com)
- NFC is the future of everything (dgui.wordpress.com)
As well as ill-thought out resolutions, January traditionally brings a slew of predictions for the year ahead. Rather than join the tech soothsayers, here’s my view on the five things that won’t happen in 2011 – but would be amusing if they did………
Queen joins ChatRoulette
Following on from her successful debut on Facebook, Queen Elizabeth pushes the social media envelope by moving onto Chat Roulette to meet her subjects. After encounters with a naked student, guitar-strumming Americans and an OAP that looks suspiciously like Prince Philip she abandons the site as being too close to reality.
Google buys Belgium
In a bid to outflank its competitors and to stop the EU investigation into its business practices, Google buys Belgium for a mixture of cash and shares. Very few people outside the country notice. Facebook use is immediately banned and everyone forced to switch to Gmail and Google Docs from Microsoft Office. It could be worse – at least they don’t have to use Wave.
Steve Jobs launches iClock
Seeing a market opportunity after the iPhone alarm clock storm in a tea cup (how exactly did that make the BBC News at Ten?) Steve Jobs launches the iClock. Stephen Fry buys twelve. A snip at $499, it promises a completely new timekeeping experience with downloadable apps available via iTunes. However in a launch glitch the alarm function only works on Pacific Standard Time, now renamed Apple Time and patented by the company.
Government abandons technology
The combination of shrinking budgets and rising unemployment means it is cheaper for the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition to swap manual processes for technology. Tin cans connected with string replace desk phones and flocks of carrier pigeons carry documents instead of email. Young people are trained to read barcodes to process incoming forms as an alternative to mainframe computers. Productivity rises.
Met Office joins the Cloud
In an innovative public/private sector partnership the Met Office and IBM launch a new cloud computing service. Utilising real clouds to store and transport data, satellite based technology downloads information as and when needed across the UK. Difficulties arise when the country swelters through its warmest year since records began, with high temperatures and cloudless skies from May to October. Well, you can but hope………..