Amazon Echo

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m generally quite cynical about new technology launches.

As someone with years of being in roles where it’s my job to get people excited about the future – I’ve always had to temper people’s excitement about new technology, and get them thinking about what it means for people and our lives, rather than the hardware itself – but with the most recent product launch from the commerce giant, I’m genuinely excited. I want an Amazon Echo – the sleek cylindrical love child of Siri (Apple’s voice controlled assistant) and Sonos (the wireless music player).

At it’s heart, Amazon Echo is a device which sits on your shelf in the corner of your living room, office or kitchen, and then listens and reacts. You shout ‘Hey Alexa, play some classical music’, and the device fetches from music and fires up some tunes. You call ‘Hey Alexa, buy more Ambrosia Custard’, and it adds previously purchased items back into your shopping basket. You holler ‘Hey Alexa, what time is the next Eurostar to Paris’ and it’ll tell you how long you’ve got to dash to the station. You whisper ‘Hey Alexa, turn the lights on please’, and your house illuminates. Or at least, that’s the picture being painted by Amazon and its consumers in the US, as the device isn’t yet available to us in the UK. I’ve had a brief play with one of the few units over here at a recent demonstration by the Amazon team, and I’ve been reading through some of the toolkits which Amazon are releasing to help developers and businesses add support for voice interfaces, and I’m still excited.

As I’ve written before, Amazon realised a long time ago that ecommerce is an incredibly hard design challenge – you’ll never be able to mimick or match real-world retail environments, so they’ve stopped trying, and instead are adding layers of shoppability to the real-world. Amazon Firefly, their object recognition app, allows you to shoot a photo of anything, have it recognised, and add it to your basket. Amazon Dash Buttons are branded physical buttons which sit on your washing machine or fridge to reorder goods at the touch of a button. And Amazon Echo builds on that thought, to make purchase frictionless, effortless, nothing more than a passing comment.

It heightens the importance of brand recall and preference – as you’ll shout out the name of a brand you remember, rather than having a shelf of products competing for your attention with discounts and POS techniques which they can rely upon. This potentially also cements the role of Amazon Echo in partnership with other media, especially TV – the ability to prompt purchase even if the audience isn’t second screening.

Retailers will need to actively think the role that this more passive interaction with services that voice and in-home IOT interfaces offer them. Amazon celebrated their 20th anniversary this month – and as an organisation they’re sitting on decades of insight and knowledge about shopping habits and behaviours. What additional insights they’ll gather through having a new foothold in the front-room with the ability to capture more passing comments from consumers, rather active ‘sit and search’ type behaviours, will be of great interest to advertisers and brands.

But whilst yes, it’s a direct opportunity to add products to baskets, thinking of voice as just another way of clicking ‘buy now’ is short-sighted. In the same way Google search data shows the interests and questions that audiences have around certain key words, and perhaps the content which could be developed to answer that search – voice opens a new space in which to offer true value to consumers in their home. Will Vanish offer the answer of how to remove a stain within seconds of spilling a glass of red wine on the carpet? Can British Airways keep a wishlist of places that the family are mulling over for their next holiday? Can Lurpak make a suggestion of a meal for tonight based upon the contents of the fridge? – and that’s just playing with the idea of voice based search, the most obvious first step using the platform.

I’m also excited because we’re starting to pass into the next generation of interface and internet of things, where devices become more hidden and flow into a more natural way of interacting, helping us lift our heads from our screens, and the integration of many more IOT devices together, Amazon Echo, for instance, already connects to Philips and Belkin home automation technology, like lighting systems.

This constant overwatch from our technology doesn’t come without its concerns. Whilst Echo doesn’t listen to what you say until you prompt with her wake-word ‘Alexa’, your voice is still being transmitted to third parties, and as we saw in a recent advertising innovation, voice is potentially easy to abuse – with Toyota running a radio ad prompting in-car iPhones to switch to Airplane mode via Siri. Also, the type of data being collected would be far more passive than ever before, every little search, every little thought, every comment you make through the Echo system would and could be aggregated to build a very rich picture of what a person is doing and ‘offline’, rather than when actively engaging with a device. Each small interaction, the specific time when someone adds an item to their basket, or asks for the time, or switches music on, or turns off their lights, builds up a unique view of someone in a more offline state at home, which isn’t yet captured accurately – a huge potential wealth of data for advertisers and brands. In addition, what impact does this ‘on-demand’ capability have on our planet? Being able to order a single item with a passing mention, and have it shipped to you within an hour by connecting Amazon Echo and Amazon Prime Now (the recent immediate shipping functionality launched in London) doesn’t help reduction of packaging waste or carbon emissions, and points towards a worrying culture of impatience.

But for every concern, there are bright stars of positivity too. Nest’s connected smoke alarm alerting you at work that there’s a problem. Microsoft Research Lab’s work on mood tracking to help children with Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder prompting ways of calming the wearer down. Amazon’s Echo could even be used to alert family or friends at the calls for help from an elderly relative.

This is the first outing for Amazon Echo – it may well be that we see a number of variations on its form, its use and its best place in our lives. Early comments from the beta release in the US have already started shifting how it is designed and thought about, and now it has gone on mainstream release, we’ll start to see many more uses of its technology that haven’t yet been thought about.

A modified version of this article was first published in The Grocer.

Convergence is Redefining Retail.

Innovation is disrupting and redefining retail as never before.

A convergent media landscape, created by fast-changing technologies, has increasingly blurred the boundaries between media, social networks and retail.

The combination of advances in technology and shifting consumer’ expectations has resulted in e-commerce increasingly meaning “everywhere-commerce”.

Tech innovation has led to the emergence of the always-on consumer, who expects goods to be just a single tap away, and to be able to effortlessly shop across a multitude of channels, at the right time and in the most convenient place – a phenomenon accelerated by the rise of mobile commerce, which is set to exceed £15bn in the UK this year.

To address this consumer need, tech and social media companies are looking into new methods of shortening the path to purchase, laying the foundations for the creation of an everywhere commerce ecosystem.

In recent weeks several media / tech companies have made a foray into this space, evolving from pure media players into digital commerce game changers. For example, YouTube has recently launched click-and-buy video adverts, allowing consumers to buy products directly from the video ads they are watching.

As part of its attempt to take on Amazon and eBay, Google has revealed plans to embed a “buy button” to its search results, enabling consumers to make purchases without needing to visit an alternative site.

Pinterest is planning to introduce a “buy button” on its platform too, whilst Twitter and Facebook have been testing one since last year.

For brands existing in the retail space, it’s clear that e-commerce, mobile commerce or ‘everywhere commerce’ is critical to the successful growth of their business. Take Mondelez, Diageo, and AB InBev, for example, which as businesses generally don’t sell directly to consumers, but they are now looking into how all forms of digital commerce can deliver growth, and it’s here that the role of media has never been clearer in driving direct business value.

Mondelez has recently embedded a ‘buy it now’ button into the brand’s online media, allowing customers to buy their favourite snacks directly from online video advertising, online promotions and social media.

Retailers looking to harness the power of convergent commerce need to follow five principles:

Brilliant basics: retailers must focus on accessibility. Search, marketing and addressing any failings in mobile optimisation are crucial. This has become even more important since the introduction of the new Google’s search algorithm, which will show only ‘mobile friendly’ websites on its search results.

Smarter media: retailers must deploy data to ensure effective targeting strategies. These will help retailers engage with the right people with the right message, and then create the opportunity for consumers to buy within media rather than just driving them to point-of-sale. Mobile technology has added a shoppable layer to most media channels, such as digital out-of-home or television, allowing us to add a shopping basket within ad units, tweet to purchase, support micropayments, pre-ordering, group purchases, and many other forms of sale. With technologies like Sky AdSmart, programmatic buying and second-screening, we’re reaching a point where we can personalise TV advertising as never before, enabling consumers to purchase the products they are watching on the screen without even entering credit card details, and have them in their hands within the hour.

Constant innovation: retailers must constantly test and learn, experimenting with new channels, technologies, distribution models, partnerships, content and creative thinking. Insights from testing new approaches are always valuable.

Holistic evaluation: in an everywhere-commerce environment, retailers need to have a strong understanding of which touch-points within their ecosystem are delivering against which KPIs, and how the network is performing holistically. A data-led evaluation framework enables retailers to optimise the entire operation around channels that truly work.

Internal collaboration: existing barriers between internal departments need to be broken down. There is a lot of crossover between product, trading, commerce and marketing, and integrated thinking and shared objectives have become a must for retailers wanting to meet expectations and needs of a consumer with an on-demand mindset.

Opinion originally posted on

Death Match: Chief Growth Officer vs. Chief Disruption Officer

There’s an interesting trend in company job titles I’ve been observing recently, the number of large businesses who are hiring (or creating) Chief Growth Officers.

Growth is word which hangs in the air in Silicon Valley and start-up-ville, where growth is the key metric for businesses. The phrase Growth-Hacking was coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis of Dropbox marketing fame, and defines “a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of ‘How do I get customers for my product'” – using smart, lean and agile techniques to grow userbase without huge paid for marketing spend – what we’d probably call owner and earned in a media agency. Let’s get the largest possible number of people on our platform.

I worry that Growth as an objective points us in the wrong direction.

Growth, in my opinion, should be a metric or symptom of excellence, not an objective.

Focus on doing brilliant work, creating wonderful things, making people smile, and growth comes from that.

We constantly reference businesses who have remarkable growth, Amazon, Google, Uber, Airbnb, yet we use them as examples of disruption in the marketplace, because they have done something different, they have taken the status quo and broken it, to much success. Airbnb broke hotels. Uber broke taxis. We don’t applaud businesses who have huge market caps who are just growing within a category by eating up competition or eroding their margins and suppliers in the hunt for larger numbers.

We need more focus on experimentation and disruption, to discover potential areas of new opportunity, to understand what breaking things can do for our companies and our clients and ultimately people at the end (and most valuable part) of the chain, our customers, our consumers: our friends, our families, us.

You could argue the case for a Chief Disruption Officer then, a Chief Innovation Officer, a Chief Experimentation Officer (indeed, that’s my job), but it goes way further than that.

We cannot have an individual who is responsible for the disruption and innovation and doing things differently, but rather we need to foster cultures of creativity and challenging the status quo. The permission to try something, to question and break things, to go in a different direction needs to be given and supported to every individual within an organisation, and then, the role of the Chief Growth Officer is to look at how that small kernel of an idea can be scaled massively, to grow it from an actionable thought into something profitable and valuable for everyone, at speed.

Perhaps we need new job titles which focus on the support and growth of people and culture within organisations, from within which come the ideas that money is generated, rather than a focus on the money itself.


What does the future hold for Spotify

I spoke to the BBC for Radio 2, BBC World Radio and BBC World News TV on Tuesday about Spotify launching new forms of content on their platforms. Some of the video and audio is available below. There’s so much more to say about Spotify getting into video, but here is my summary:

– Spotify don’t turn a profit, despite huge revenues – and video content is generally less complex and costly to license, so could be a valuable route to turn down.
– More choice for consumers within one platform will always be better for Spotify, as the longer they can retain users within their application, the more data and potential advertising revenue can be generated
– Video advertising (to their free users) is generally more costly to advertisers than radio advertising, so will additionally increase their revenues from this source
– Daniel Ek hinted at creating original content, Spotify as a commissioner or creator is an interesting but ambitious objective. Could they be the Netflix for audio?


Wearables don’t need to be screens.

I think we’re missing the point of wearables. The future of smart devices placed around the body isn’t about creating more screens, but about creating more data points which can connect to other screens.

This example of Dominos Android Watch ordering app is completely wrong. Why would you order a pizza on your watch when you have a larger screen device which makes this so much easier sat in your pocket?

I believe two principles are worth bearing in mind for small screen devices and wearables:

  1. Small screens are for glancing at and simple interactions – prompts of bitesized information (how fast you’re running, your next meeting, your proximity to a friend) and basic actions prompted by this (arrange to meet that nearby friend, pick up the pace a little, tell your team you’re going to be late for the meeting). Fingers are big. Design for that.
  2. Wearables don’t need a screen – BLE and other technologies mean we can connect to more appropriate screens for interaction tasks. Stand next to a bus-stop paired with your wearable to find the upcoming bus on a 6-sheet sized screen, rather than peering into a tiny screen on your wrist. Connectivity exists. Design for that.

Wearables are better placed to capture and connect than create more interfaces.

NFC payment technology like ApplePay/Oyster provides us with proximity authentication techniques – lean on a wall, and you can be connected to that wall. Turn the wall into a screen, and that’s a wall sized screen to order your pizza on.

Let’s put screens into things which are best to be screens, and identification and sensor technology into the things which are best to be sensors – then connect up the two to allow best-fit interfaces for the task at hand, rather than squeezing a complex task into the palm of your hand.


Sounds of January 2015

Not a huge month for new music for me – mostly because I’d been listening to a lot of existing playlists on my new Sonos (because browsing the dynamic playlists is way harder via Sonos AND there’s no easy way of quickly adding a tune you hear to a favourite when you’re not near to the machine.. interesting usability challenge, when you’re not near a device, or if you’re running, how do you add a track you’ve just heard to your favourites?)

Although, a number of notable new artists added to the playlist: Tove Styrke, Veronica Maggio, and Panama Wedding who were getting the lion’s share of listens this month.

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LoveThink – a new project for 2015

You may have already seen a few tweets and posts about my new project for 2015 – lovethink.

It was sparked by a few recent conversations about the rise of Tinder and similar apps, and during exploration of the explosive category of connection platforms, from to OKCupid, from Happn to Cuddlr – it struck me that they all start with one thing – physical attraction.

Clearly, this is a fairly fundamental biological drive, and years of evolution demand that physical attraction has purpose way beyond just wanting to be with someone ‘nice looking’, but I think we’d all agree that it isn’t the most important dimension, and certainly not the only one.

Fast forward to today – and I’ve been developing a platform to test a question: can you create romantic connections without physical appearance being the first filter?

In all honesty, it’s developed from a thought/concept design to talk around into a quick wordpress hack to see if something was possible, and now I’m interested in whether people will take part, and what might happen.

As with most of my projects, I’ve not really thought this through, or am too worried about what might happen and how – I’m more interested in just seeing what happens. I’d be keen for as many people to just take part, whether they’re single or not, whether they’re looking to meet collaborators, friends or something more.

You can register for an account at and we’ll be posting regular updates here on the project as it develops, as well as what I discover or start to think about the concept as it unfolds.

Fresh baking ingredients

Recipes for iOS

There are a handful of ‘task series’ which i regularly do on my phone.

The most common, I think, is:

  1. Turn on Wifi
  2. Turn on Bluetooth
  3. Pair to my speaker
  4. Open Spotify
  5. Start the ‘_currently‘ playlist

I pretty much do this every time I get home at night.

There are others, like ‘close all apps’, or ‘go into low battery mode: close apps, switch off wifi, bluetooth and lower the screen brightness’ or ‘go running: launch the ABGT podcast, open runkeeper, start a run’.

I’d love there to be functionality where you can sequence tasks into a little shortcut which lives on the home screen, and to build upon that further, then set up triggers to fire those tasks, for instance, run the ‘Start my music’ task above when i ‘enter the proximity of home’.

Sort of IFTTT meets AppleScript.


Hey. How was your day?

I’m mostly bored, so I reply to requests on dating sites like Tinder and Guardian Soulmates with long rambling fantasies. Oddly enough, I don’t get asked out on many dates.


Her: Hey. How was your day?

Me: well, first of all, i visited our local A&E to tend to burns on my hands and arms from spilling hot coffee all over myself this morning before i’d left the house. at the emergency ward, a patient in the next bed was talking in his sleep, about a cache of stolen nazi gold which he had hidden in his east-end lockup. he had been arrested and was handcuffed to his bed. some hours later, a darkly dressed man entered the ward, and shot my murmering fellow. whilst police swarmed, i was discharged, and decided to make haste, with the memory of the location of the gold firmly lodged in my mind. my plan was to reach the gold, sell it on the black market, and return the funds to local charity organisations, as my good deed for the day. upon arrival at the gold stash, it seems i was not the only person in that hospital who had overheard our now deceased antagonist. a doctor, a nurse, a registrar, a hall porter, two nuns, a DHL driver, a fifteen year old pizza delivery boy, a cat with a twisted ankle who had mistakenly confused the hospital for a veterinary centre, and a vending machine had all arrived with the very same thought – steal the gold for themselves. fortunately, i was late and i enter the location to see the results of an all out battle between the cast of would be criminals. only the vending machine is left standing, his face dripping with the blood of his adversaries, hunched over the still warm bodies, sobbing, in the realisation of what the desire for gold had turned him into. i slowly walk up to the vending machine, my face white with fear of what may happen next. my foot brushes a pile of gravel, making a soft noise, but enough to startle the vending machine, who spins around, pointing a make shift knife, forged from the thigh bone of the wounded cat, straight at me. frozen to the spot, i slowly raise my hands, panting. “I.. I..”, not able able to get the words from my mouth. I see a tear roll from the machine’s change slot. it stares at me silently, but somehow i understand completely what it is feeling and thinking. I go to speak, to console it, to explain that I… when he jams the cat bone shiv into itself. I look away, determined not to see any more death, destruction or pain, and just start walking, walking faster and faster until I break into a sprint. I don’t stop running until I reach work. I would normally make myself a mug of coffee when I get in, but even just the odour of coffee now has the attached to it pain of a dozen lives lost driven by greed, and reminds me of what could have happened to me, if I had been just a few minutes earlier.

So I made myself a cup of tea, and nothing else really happened for the rest of the day. Sort of boring really.

How about you?

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Streetview Ghosts

I used to appear on Google Streetview a few doors down the road from where I lived at the time. They’ve clearly sent a car around again since that day in 2012, as I’ve now disappeared from the live maps.,-0.3229111,3a,15y,329.45h,77.37t/data=!3m5!1e1!3m3!1sYwczGaadQphsXHyWKn4-kA!2e0!5s20120701T000000

But not to worry, you can seemingly scroll back in time to see Street Views historically.  Click on the little clock icon, and you’ll be able to select three snapshots in time of the same patch of wall – two without me, one with.

I love that Google are capturing the historic views of a location – and in time (perhaps decades), we’ll have a unique and powerful tool to see the change of our urban environments over time.

Projects and Thoughts.