Tag Archives: mobile


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 http://www.retailgazette.co.uk/blog/2015/06/how-retailers-can-harness-the-power-of-media

DR Codes

This is a thought that’d been rattling around in my head for a few years, which I want to try and crack this year.

Each agency I’ve worked in, there has been some form of tea making culture. Every day, at varying times during the day, someone will offer to make a brew.
Small teams of good friends know how to make each others drinks, but larger teams struggle to remember, and if you’re offering to make a large round, you have to remember quite a few permutations of the basic bases: Drink Type, Sugar Count, Strength/Milk Ratio, Foam, Steep Time, and so on.

At de-construct, we had a number of solutions to remind brewers how the team liked their drink. These were pieces of beautiful design which presented the instructions to make the drink in a graphical format, printed as a large poster in the kitchen area. The first one, I think was done by Alex Griffin, mostly in response to me accidentally putting salt in a cup of tea instead of sugar (they look the same, it wasn’t my fault).

There are so many combinations though, and people change their desires frequently – I’m drinking more tea than I used to for instance, and some times I need sugar, other times I don’t. If you’re making me coffee though, its simple – freshly ground black filter coffee please.

So posters only work so far, and don’t solve the problem of remember who wanted a drink either.
How often have you scribbled down some hieroglyphs like MK: T2S, SB: C1SB, KL: C2 to keep track of who asked for what?

So the idea of a DR code came to me a few years back when looking to create a new poster for a space: A graphical marker which explains how someone wants their drink, that can be read by both humans and machines. A QR code for drinks.

A human looking at the code could easily see the drink’s make up: drink type, sugars, milk, etc. A computer could read even more information, and build that into applications. A mobile app could easily capture what drinks people wanted, and who wanted them – perhaps the DR codes are stored against the address book entry, and the app logs the ratio of making the drink to receiving the drink (to catch out people who never step up to the kettle), and that data could be aggregated to show the consumption habits of a business, and improve stock ordering accordingly.

So I’ve started work on creating the code itself, a human and machine readable visual device which holds information on a drink’s make up.

There are TR Codes (Tea Requirement codes) and CR Codes (Coffee Requirement) so far, and I’m still tweaking the meanings (for instance, subtleties between ristrettos and espressos, or milk/foam ratios for drinks like a latte vs a capp’).

There’s potentially colour to explore too, to expand the drink types. I’m pretty sure it could extend to drinks beyond the office, cocktails for instance might work based upon ratios.

Once the DR Code works, I’ll look at how we can use some simple Javascript to recognise the icon, and act upon it in some way.
I’d also love to look at non square / non digital looking versions, using perhaps pie chart type visuals and colour.

There are bunch of references which have influenced this so far:
The work Mat and I did on CLARITY*
The espresso field guide (and versions of that)
Tea over IP

FOMO and the disconnection reaction

There’s been a lot of writing recently (it seems, although I’m sure there’s been a steady current of articles about this for many years) about switching off. The overload of social media, streams of content over pages, notifications, alerts, snackable content leading to continuous partial attention is encouraging many to resort to disconnecting. Turning off their devices and going dark.

The idea is laudable, getting away from the constant babble of our networks, a ‘digital sabbath’ where we haul ourselves back to a better time where we’re not bombarded with messages and pings, so we can spend time enjoying our family, friends and surroundings, perhaps even pick up a good book, cook a good meal or just have a well-deserved nap – but I think disconnection is a dangerous idea.

Disconnection suggests that it is connection which is the problem. Connection is not the problem, but rather our lack of useful tools or abilities to create boundaries and filters for what information we’re allowing to reach us at any one time.

The line drawn between work and play has blurred so significantly that it is not uncommon to read work emails on a Sunday morning over the newspapers. I have absolutely no problem with this – as a freelancer, I never stuck to the traditional Mon-Fri 9-5 concept. As a creative, idea generation never respected the office hours template, so I’d frequently relax on a Monday if I wasn’t in the zone, and work on a Sunday if I was inspired or late night coding sessions, and day time napping.

The more these traditional working hours collapse, the more peoples phases will shift in relation to one-another and the less reliable it becomes to expect some sort of downtime during 5-9 or weekends.

Disconnection is the easiest answer – turn off all communication, however this means you’ll not receive ANY prompts to switch into another thought mode (perhaps from play to work, or broad absorption vs. focussed attention), no matter how important – the death of a relative, an urgent opportunity for new business, a last minute invite to a party. From FOMO (fear of missing out) to just MO.

And we don’t actually want to be disconnected – maps, calendars, read it later applications, television – they’re all really useful and likely desired connected tools which we’d want to use, but come with the fear of accidental leaking in of messages from an undesired source, perhaps work email. Despite many of these being binary driven tools, this is not a binary state. We should not be ON or OFF.

We’ve been talking about a connected/convergent world for years. The line between online and offline is behind us. I called someone out in a meeting this week suggesting discussion of something ‘in real life’ was different to discussing it online, because digital conversations are just as commonplace as phone calls or physical meetings. They’re the same thing.

What digital frequently lacks, however, is context. Context or suggested appropriateness of conversation topic.

In a meeting room, it’s less appropriate to talk about your plans this weekend than in the pub.

In a pub, it’s less appropriate to talk about your pitch preparation than in the meeting room.

We need better ways of a) letting others know our readiness to receive information and b) filtering information which needs to get through versus information which is just noise or distraction. The simple ‘online/busy/away’ traffic lights of instant messenger aren’t sufficient any more.

We need to develop better context/desire/willingness filters to allow the right sort of content in, rather than shutting the curtains and letting in nothing at all.

It means applying meaningful values to content, and mapping it to context.

It means extending the half-life of real-time content, so it’s still visible after the fact.

It means extending the social graph model to include human information on relationships, not just semantic information (who says I want to hear from my mother?).

It feels like mobile is the best place to start – as it is increasingly the context setter (voice and data, location, integration with calendar, always with you). Products like AwayFind and Google Priority Inbox are already starting to suggest routes – but there is a vast amount of worthwhile exploration in this space.

Second Stage Use

I’ve been thinking alot over the past few years about when implementations of new technology become interesting.
There is often a pattern of:

– creation: someone very clever or opportunistically creates a new technique or technology, often an engineer with specific purpose in mind.
– beautiful implementation: someone also very clever uses the new technology, often slightly subverting the original use, and in a very striking way.
– saturation/mainstream: many many many other people use the technique again and again, but generally in the same way, just variation on a theme.
– hibernation: the technique often loses its main appeal, or the excitement of its original use lessens.
– blended use: someone, very clever or opportunistically, then blends the original technique with something else, a mashup, to create something better than the sum of its parts.

Whilst I love the creation and beautiful implementation phases, what really excites me is the second stage of use, the new subtle application of the technology, often combined with another technique or technology to create better effect. Location aware technology has been through the creation and beautiful implementation phases, and probably is coming through the saturation phase, and we’re starting to see some interesting blended location based ideas.

It is not the ‘I am here’ which is the cool thing about Foursquare, its the ‘I am here, and two of my friends have been here, and suggested not to try the coffee’ which is interesting. It is not the oyster card which is interesting, it is the email which I received about Farringdon being closed next week, initiated through my regular use of the station, rather than any explicit instruction for alerts.

This second stage use is what creates interesting ideas.

We’re not far from walking into Starbucks having already ordered our coffee whilst on the train, and it being hot and ready for you when you walk into the store, because it knew when you were 90 seconds away from picking it up.

The interesting comes from the result of an action, not from the action itself.