The best tech? It’s not that cool…
As head of the Innovation function at Equator, it is an important part of my team’s role to spot the cool new stuff in tech and get our hands dirty wrestling with it, breaking it and ultimately, find novel solutions for our clients that makes use of this technology.
However, it struck me over the festive period (a time typically when a lot of new tech is foisted on the consumer market) that there wasn't that much out there that was interesting. That thought was rather firmly underlined just a few weeks later as the tech world turned their focus on Las Vegas for CES, the Consumer Electronics Show – the annual industry showcase for all that is new and exciting in technology.
Sadly, this year was, just as I thought, not that exciting. In fact, instead of the usual hype and hubbub that typically surrounds the show, the world of tech journalism appeared to be a sea of indifference and apathy. The New York Times summed up the output of the show when they said “The best new stuff is not all that cool, and the coolest stuff isn’t quite ready” describing the current era of technology to be an awkward adolescence. And I could not agree more.
We’re at an interesting point in the evolution of technology. Moore’s law has hit a wall and processing power is no longer doubling every 24 months (we’re starting to hit some technological barriers that prevent this). Consumer adoption of technology now happens faster than ever, fuelled in part by globalised market but also by the increasingly inexpensive nature of recent technologies.
In fact, consumer demands for technological capabilities are outpacing technology itself and it is this demand, coupled with the crowdfunding world that is pushing tech companies to push out products far before they are fully finished. We, the consumer, are increasingly having to accept beta-level or sometimes even alpha-level products that we’re expected to troubleshoot and bug fix ourselves.
Alongside that, the innovations we actually crave; genuinely good battery life, always-on internet and pinpoint accuracy are just not there yet. Hence why CES was full of also-ran products that offered little innovation such as Fitbit’s Watch or just made no sense at all such as Samsung’s rather ridiculous WELT Smart Belt. There have been worse ideas in history…but really. Nobody needs a belt telling them how fat they’re getting.
So, does this mean we should shun the world of wearables, the bounty of beacons and the realms of virtual reality and get back to our day jobs? Is all of this just another classic consumer electronics flash-in-the-pan?
Well, not if you want to make a lot of money in the near future!
What one has to realise is that the reason behind why all this middling tech is being released too early is the same reason that it won’t be too long till what’s out will be genuinely game-changing – consumer demand.
As I mentioned before, we now exist in a global market. This means, even niche, half-finished or downright crazy ideas (Emoji version of Moby Dick anyone?) can find an audience sufficient enough to get it off the ground. But it also means that the potential audience for something truly useful and innovative can be gauged quicker – and funded even quicker.
And many of those game-changing innovations I talked about really are just around the corner. We are expecting to see typical battery capacity double whilst the costs of existing battery tech should drop 60%. We have literally just seen the launch of a £3 smartphone in India. We are not far away from a world where literally everyone can afford a useful intelligent mobile phone that is always on and always on their person – in almost every developed or developing nation.
If you thought the digital marketplace was big, it will soon become vast. The mobile web will no longer just be a sea of early-adopting, iPhone wielding hipsters but early teenagers, senior citizens, the unemployed, the technically illiterate. Plug these people into a connected world of location sensing beacons, contactless payments and wearable sensors and a sea of knowledge, data and opportunity opens up for every business of every kind.
The idea that internet users will have a specific demographic will vanish. But the idea that reaching these people will be as easy as it was to reach internet users in the early days will vanish too. Marketers will have to up their game, return to the textbooks and consider CRM, segmentation and, targeting online like never before. Data will be critical but so will brand. The internet is a noisy, busy place. It’s only going to get exponentially busier. A resonant brand story could be one of the few weapons you are left with in going into this space.
The future is only online. In the future we won’t even specify an online / offline difference. It will be the assumption – but likely the only assumption we can make. Be prepared.
By Martin Jordan, Innovation Director