There are a lot of these crystal ball-gazing thought pieces out there this time of year. I love them. This year, it seems like a good time to put down the scatter gun and get practical. More evolution and less revolution.
1) Investors get practical
2014 was definitely a year for the Kickstarter culture. Mad stuff that defied logic and got funded almost instantly. Even a potato salad raised $55,000. There have been a lot of rumblings in the investor circles that it’s time to put a value to those long-shots and quietly admit defeat on the ones that didn’t pan out. Google Glass apps were a sure-fire hit this time last year. Now Google Glass itself is getting the stink eye… or may simply need to hid for a while to allow Tony Fadell to work his magic. That’s not to say there is any let up in innovative (read “mostly daft”) ideas flooding my daily feeds, but they are noticeably more commercially astute.
2) Wearables, Ingestibles and embeddables
Wearables were the biggest buzz of the year. It was the biggest buzz last year too but there are a lot of interesting developments around the edges. Are you taking your medicine? Are you drinking too much alcohol? Are you active in a city at 3am? Are you drinking enough water? Are you over-stressing your back? It’s all just data collection and, like a Kinder Egg, the best stuff is on the inside. Everything from belts, and bangles to tattoos will be tracking your vital signs in 2015.
One interesting direction I’m desperate to gain hold is smart pills. The smart pill market is expected to exceed £630 million within the next two years. Proteus already has a tiny pill the size of a grain of sand that acts as a micro reporting lab inside your body. If you forget to take your medicine or need a dose urgently, you will know… and so will your doctor. And the best bit is, they are powered by the body itself.
Tracking apps are everywhere, but interestingly, Bupa have just launched their (currently B2B) beta of their Bupa Boost service which simply aggregates all the other apps and wearables (even Apple’s Health app). Price comparison websites did it with insurance. Are we seeing the start of the big health providers taking ‘fitness’ and truly applying it to ‘health’. NHS, I’m looking at you.
3) Battery life backlash
Major tech firms have spent millions developing smart watches that will struggle to get traction because of battery life PR and inevitable social backlash. In the rush to be the first, the emphasis is on smart, not watches. We’re already seeing rumblings that expensive, power hungry devices may not catch the mass market’s eye. CES uncovered several watches that worked for months, if not years. They do just enough to be useful but not enough to become a worry in everyday life (like charging or getting wet). When you start ‘wearing’ things, it has to work in harmony with our lives. This will be an interesting year to see whether we demand better products or bigger wrists.
4) A country will lose the first cyber war
Unless you were under a rock this Christmas, you will have noticed the curious Sony hackathon. Sony got hacked, the hackers issued a threat, Sony backed down, the US government step in and the Sony sheepishly came back to the table. The US government were strangely silent for much of the build up, all until a journalist uttered the phrase “The USA just lost the first cyber war.” Strangely, within 24 hours it seemed Obama was on TV making light of the threat and calling on Sony not to back down. There was a lot going on in the background that managed to blur the lines but the fact remains, no country wants the stigma of being the country that loses the first cyber war. The US got a bloody nose. 2015 will see the first casualty. Will it be a power station? A city’s traffic lights, water supply or air traffic control? Watch this space – assuming you still have electricity.
5) Plastic becomes cardboard
We were excited when our Oculus 2 arrived. But I had a vague feeling I’d experienced the excitement before. I had… the £10 fold up Google Cardboard knock-off sat on my desk with an iPhone 6 stuck in it. The iPhone screen looked better and bar a few features, it did everything the Oculus did. Add to that the new WebGL library that will allow VR experiences to be delivered directly in a mobile web browser rather than an app, and the closed Oculus product world is looking rather lonely. It’s still got an opportunity as a niche peripheral for the console gaming market though, but mass market is where the smart money is at, and that’s probably made of cardboard. Expect to be unfolding a lot of promotional cardboard VR glasses this year.
6) Facebook becomes hygiene
Over the past year, Facebook has become a hygiene factor for many marketers rather than a headline. It’s partly down to the younger, newer audiences never really escaping the gravity of the platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, but it’s also because Facebook for mobile never really became a great communication platform for brands. Facebook’s lack of exciting or flexible mobile play is something I can’t see changing any time soon but you can bet there’s someone over at Facebook HQ sweating it.
7) HTML5 ads are good
Flash is dead. Long live Flash! If you’re making ads anyway. Not in 2015. Companies like Celtra have dealt the final blow for Flash’s adventures in Ad Land. Some really innovative formats are possible now that the ads are more integrated with the page content. Formats that Flash just can’t do, doubly so on mobile. And HTML5 isn’t the poor relation in the whiz-bang stakes either. HTML5 ad platforms have drag-and-drop templates for 360º look-arounds, camera photobooths, games, live location-based maps, gyro-based navigation, video chat, drawing and in-line interactive video. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but web banners just got interesting again.
Possibly the creepiest but most exciting development is mainstream location-based advertising. Apple and Google are tracking your every move (obviously) but companies like Rippll are making it available to advertisers. The interesting part is that the GPS data that you or I generate all day is being stored and mined on a historical basis. Here’s the scenario, I’m a sports company specialising in personalised football shirts. I can now get a list of all mobile handsets that have spent more than 30 minutes in any of the UK’s football grounds in the last 6 months. Given a bit of analysis, I can now find which handsets were present at each game and work out the team you like. I can then target you with messages tailored specifically to your team and add a message relating to the last scoreline. With the explosion of wearables too, we’re only adding to that ever more personal data pool. How you use it (without being creepy) is the exciting part.
I bought a drone for my kids this Christmas… £29.99. They are now toys. They are normal. They are getting smaller and bigger as people figure out how to use them. The Nixie for instance, is a bracelet that transforms into a drone as you flick your wrist. The website implies it’s for glorified selfies, but imagine if they can be used for getting emergency help or delivering items around hospitals or factories. Until we invent matter transfer beams, it’s the closest we’ve got. I’m simply waiting for someone to do something truly dumb and cause some form of kneejerk legislation. It would be a poor show to get them banned before we actually figure out what they are for.
10) Sneaky white goods (aka the connected home)
Nest made a big splash last year with their ‘thermostat 2.0’. The idea has been around for a while but the smart products market is increasingly connected. Google know this so snapped up Nest last year. Their thermostats learn your home activity over time and adjusts your heating accordingly. Then there are smoke detectors. Cool. Interestingly, smoke detectors are in every room. It knows when a room is occupied. It is owned by Google. Google know when you are online. They know what you are buying. They know when you buy a casserole dish, after being in your front from, just after a TV ad about casserole dishes. Very useful data for marketeers and advertising types and if a lowly smoke alarm is useful in user profiling, you can be sure there will be more. Air fresheners, light bulbs and coffee machines are already connected to data networks and advertisers are desperate to know.
Still not there yet…
Bitcoins still won’t be used by normal people. Don’t worry about self driving cars and you still won’t have or need a 3D printer in your house unless you have a non-urgent need for small, slightly scratchy plastic nic-nacs. And don’t get me started on curved TVs. Leonardo Da Vinci didn’t seem to need a curved canvas and that’s good enough for me. Know your gimmicks folks.
So there you have it, welcome to 2015, a year of practicality, maturing devices and some good old fashioned cardboard. I suspect that this time next year, we’ll all be wishing our wrists were bigger. Can’t wait!