New technologies are helping retailers increase customer engagement, support staff performance, and bring data richness to in-store customer analytics. For example: have you ever wondered what areas of your store get the most foot traffic? Do you wish you could push relevant promotions and recommendations to customers based on their purchase history while in your store? Or have you ever wanted to beam instructions to a sales associate suddenly faced with an unhappy VIP client?
Here are 5 technologies giving retail leaders the power to meet those tough retail challenges head on:
Beacons and iBeacons
Swirl, Estimote, SonicNotify, and Urban Airship offer integrated beacon solutions
Beacons (or iBeacons) are small transmitters using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) that communicate with connected devices. Applications range from customer experience management to store layout optimization. Using Beacons, store employees can do things like judge the proper time to approach an individual store guest by tracking their time spent at a product wall. Similarly, collecting analytics on popular spaces in-store over time allows retailers to quickly A/B test their store layouts.
Macy’s deployed Beacons in two stores in late 2013 in collaboration with Shopkick, a location-based app that awards points to customers for physically visiting stores or scanning merchandise. American Eagle deployed beacons in 100 of its stores in January of this year. Other deployments that integrate with Shopkick are slated to occur in whole host of other large retailers including Target, The Sports Authority, Crate and Barrel, and Old Navy.
From more granular customer analytics to increased engagement, beacons promise to make retail spaces and the people who run them smarter and more connected than ever.
Augmented Reality + Smart Glasses
Virgin Atlantic uses Google Glass to offer VIP passengers better service
Combining smart glasses with augmented reality promises increased efficiency in inventory management, more consistent staff training, and increased process compliance. Active Ants, a fulfillment operation out of the Netherlands, increased efficiency by 15% and decreased error rates by 12% after outfitting its stock pickers with Google Glass. Large format retail stores could benefit by implementing this technology to keep shelves orderly and manage in-store inventory.
Virgin Atlantic has taken a step in regard to the last application, using Google Glass outfitted with facial recognition software to help Heathrow airport concierges better serve upper class passengers. According to Virgin, the trial proved so successful that they will “productionise” the use of Glass. Enterprise use of smart glasses and augmented reality has the potential to usher in a new retail era, ensuring consistent brand communication across touchpoints, along with a higher level of performance support.
Facial Recognition: The Next Frontier
Neoface by NEC IT systems offers real-time face recognition for retail environments
Some retailers already use facial recognition as a loss prevention tool, comparing store visitors with known problem guests. However, facial recognition software presents extensive opportunities for serving customers. Retailers can use facial recognition to search out VIP clients and push purchase history along with personalized recommendations to sales floor staff.
Another customer management application of this technology on the sales floor is using software to interpret the emotional state of customers. Companies like Realeyes do emotional response testing by analyzing the facial expression of participants. Once the technology is operational in real time, retailers—especially large format retailers—could deploy sales staff to customers who display some sort of negative affect. How could your business benefit by knowing exactly who your customers are and what they’re feeling?
Theatro Wearable Computer is used by The Container Store to keep employees in touch
Many kinds of wearables hold promise for the enterprise space. Imagine being able to track performance of the sales floor staff or being able to deploy training exercises via smartwatch. The Container Store is one of the first retail stores using wearables to support its sales staff. Earlier this year, they rolled out a pilot program to 35 employees at their Austin store using the Theatro Wearable Computer.
This wearable replaces a clunky walkie-talkie with a sleek device that uses the store’s wireless network to transmit audio signals. Staff can receive previously recorded messages and use voice commands to locate other associates. Already, the company has seen a 30% increase in the volume of directed communication with a 60% decrease in the number of messages everyone hears. In other words, people are hearing the messages that are relevant to them without having to listen to everything else.
Wearables are powerful tools that can help collect information on how your team is performing and offer them help when they need it.
Staples 3D marketplace gives visitors a way to share and sell 3D-printable files
Any retailer that is interested in offering a tangible piece of the brand experience to a customer may want to invest in an on-site 3D printer. For example, home improvement associates could become partners in customer projects, printing out 3D models of proposed improvements to help customers visualize their spaces and get buy-in from family members. For consumer electronics stores, offering 3D printed mobile accessories would engage customers, by giving them ownership of the creative process.
Staples and UPS now have 3D printing services. Staples has opened two experimental 3D printing locations, one in Los Angeles and one in New York. Primarily positioned as community outreach and education, it also gives Staples a hi-tech halo, imbuing the Staples brand with a more cutting-edge image.
How do you see these new technologies impacting your retail business?
BeyondCurious uses our expertise in in-store digital to help large enterprises disrupt themselves before they get disrupted. Learn more about how we help businesses innovate here.
We are delighted to announce that BeyondCurious is featured in Google's 2013 Economic Impact Report.
The report explores how growing businesses leverage Google’s tools to expand their reach and online presence. We’re thrilled about Google’s write-up and we're grateful for all of their amazing services. Read the article below or view it on Google's website here: http://goo.gl/gEV1Sz
"Nikki Barua and Vishal Agarwal were senior executives with flourishing careers at digital agencies when they noticed the growing disconnect between the traditional approach of large brands and the rapid innovation of Silicon Valley. They saw an opportunity to fill that widening gap by helping large brands disrupt themselves before they get disrupted.
In October of 2011, they founded BeyondCurious with no clients or capital, just a grand vision for their new company. In a few short months they were already profitable. Now, less than three years later, BeyondCurious – an “Innovation Consultancy” – has realized its vision of helping large brands make innovation an everyday occurrence instead of an occasional event. Their success is astounding with more than fifty team members, millions in revenue, and a growth rate of 500 percent year over year.
Building mobile and tablet applications that solve business problems for leading brands is a key focus for BeyondCurious. Android apps account for as much as fifty percent of their revenue, and they are quickly becoming a core part of their business. “In fact, as we’re projecting forward we’re seeing that grow even more,” Nikki says.
Operating as an entirely cloud-powered business, BeyondCurious has successfully leveraged an extensive list of Google products to scale globally while competing with multibillion-dollar agencies. Google Docs enables them to seamlessly collaborate with teams around the globe. AdWords, Google’s advertising program, and Google Analytics have become valuable tools for testing new sales and marketing strategies. At the same time, YouTube and Google+ have been integral to building a strong brand. “We were scrappy and took advantage of everything that was out there; it really leveled the playing field,” notes Nikki.
Growth shows no signs of slowing down: Nikki expects to triple her team size by next year and is counting on Google’s products to help her company tackle the challenges that come with such rapid success."
Humanitarian initiatives are spearheading innovation and organizations large and small stand to benefit. As a whole the digital revolution has impacted the way we communicate and share information with each other, but it’s also shaping the way we collect data and what we do with that data. More and more companies are shifting to mobile-based data collection – it’s faster, cheaper, more efficient, and it also enhances the quality of data gathered. Here’s why:
- Efficiency: Mobile data collection and data entry can be performed simultaneously. This reduces the amount of personnel required to collect information as well as the time it takes to complete the task.
- Improved Data Quality: With answer validation checks built into mobile infrastructure, data cleaning is already underway.
- Better Insight: Data can be interpreted in real-time as it's uploaded. This enables trend spotting with visualization tools, including maps and graphs, which illustrate more accurate portrayals of a situation or environment. Mobile technology also ensures "anytime, anywhere" access to field-level data.
- Data Security: Mobile data is collected via encrypted forms and sent to secure online databases ensuring information is securely stored and easily accessible.
Mobile data collection isn’t just helping companies be more efficient; it’s also helping people respond better to humanitarian crisis. One company taking an innovative approach to using mobile data collection in transformative ways is KoBo Toolbox, a Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. KoBo Toolbox is an integrated suite of applications for handheld digital data collection that enhance the speed and accuracy of collecting and sharing information in emergency or conflict environments.
KoBo Toolbox was born out of necessity. Almost 10 years ago KoBo Toolbox co-founders Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham worked in Iraq, Eastern Congo, and Central African countries to assess how these populations were affected by conflict. After spending countless hours on projects in developing countries, Vinck realized that he had a problem. His biggest challenge was how to gather accurate data on crisis situations efficiently. Using traditional methods, not only would it take over one year to gather all of the results, but by the time data was collected most of the information was already outdated. Seeking a more convenient way to gather and share information, Vinck and Pham turned to mobile. However, since most of their research teams worked in remote locations with limited Internet service, they needed a dynamic mobile platform that worked well even when the Internet wasn’t accessible. After much trial and error, the duo finally adopted Android’s open data kit, and KoBo Toolbox was born.
The resulting suite of apps help gather and share data more effectively, leading to the greater ability to understand and quickly respond to humanitarian crisis. KoBoMap (currently in development) is one example. KoBoMap is designed to geographically portray data, an incredibly useful tool that was previously only available to national or sub-national organizations.
Kobo Map, one of Kobo Toolbox's Mobile Data Collection Apps
All of KoBo Toolbox’s developers work with Vinck and Pham in the field. This ensures that there’s no disconnect between the product and its users. Additionally, KoBo Toolbox operates on an open-source platform, which means it’s free to use and is highly customizable. It works well with limited Internet, utilizes remote administration, and can be used on multiple devices. KoBo Toolbox forms can also be encrypted to protect sensitive data.
The Kobo Toolbox Suite
KoBo Toolbox was made public three years ago and has been widely adopted by humanitarian initiatives. The apps enable organizations to land in conflict and emergency zones and successfully gather pertinent information in 24-48 hours. In fact, organizations like the International Rescue Committee reached out to the KoBo team and requested that the app be tailored to human applications.
In addition to case studies in Kenya, India, and Liberia, the International Organization for Migration recently used KoBo Toolbox following the large typhoon in the Philippines. Teams were deployed on the ground almost immediately and they were already equipped with statistics regarding which areas had access to clean water and available shelters. The John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation was among the first organizations to believe in Kobo Toolbox and further fund its development. So far this suite of apps is supported by the United Nations, US Aid, and Humanity United. And following a $100,000 grant from Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, the KoBo team looks forward to releasing a more intuitive and stable version of KoBo Toolbox.
Humanitarian initiatives have most quickly adopted the idea of KoBo Toolbox and digital data collection. However, the potential in mobile data collection extends beyond the humanitarian field, with many applications for enterprise. Mobile data collection tools can be employed in commodity tracking, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), as well as conducting research. By improving the quality and accuracy of data, organizations everywhere stand to benefit.
Vinck and Pham hope to see widespread adoption of KoBo Toolbox by NGOs. Whereas many humanitarian-focused initiatives paint compelling narratives based on pictures, the KoBo team believes in incorporating hard data to depict stories. Vinck and Pham believe the tool’s ability to incorporate quantitative and qualitative data in recounting stories of humanitarian crisis will positively impact millions of people around the world.
Disney, Mattel, Xbox, and PlayStation take note; wearables for teens are here, and they are about to disrupt your business.
Wearables for teens are nothing like the boring calorie counters marketed to adults. Instead, a whole new breed of wearable tech is emerging that that is targeted at helping young people do the things they want to do, like play, game, and relate. Tapping into and extending imagination, and engaging social behavior, wearable technology for teens could have a huge impact on the teen-focused gaming and entertainment industries.
One company developing wearable tech for the young adult market is Mighty Cast. Several years ago, Adam Adelman's company Juno was doing focus groups to test a new children's story concept. The concept they were testing was a fantasy story featuring a magical charm bracelet that enabled secret society members to contact and message each other.
Testing was not going well. The teen focus group members didn't care about the story; all they wanted to talk about was the magical bracelet, asking again and again where they could get it. That left Adelman and his colleagues with a choice: ignore users, or listen to them.
They chose to listen.
Two and a half years later, Adelman is CEO of a new wearable tech company called Mighty Cast, whose first product is that magical charm bracelet -- the NEX Band.
The first modular smart band, the NEX Band is targeted at the teen/tween to young adult demographic. And just like the fictional charm bracelet on which it is based, it has a plethora of different magical uses, like tracking friends through proximity, messaging friends back and forth, and acting like a wrist-worn game console enabling different "powers." The NEX Band is designed like a charm bracelet. By adding in different charms or "mods," users can change the functionality of their bracelet.
Adelman says that the modularity of the NEX Band is its biggest advantage. One reason that modularity is key to the NEX Band is because the product will be able to grow with its user. For example, according to Mighty Cast's user research, although younger testers are much more interested in gaming features, older kids are much more interested in the proximity features, in the fashion component, and in customizing notifications that go directly to the bands. Mighty Cast is betting that because new mods can be added as technology develops and as user needs change, modularity will protect against the NEX Band's obsolescence.
Mighty Cast recently won a million dollar grant from the Canadian government to develop and bring to life the story world for the NEX Band platform through a gaming application that users will be able to play on the NEX Band. A mobile based, social game, users or players will be able to find each other through proximity. They'll be able to exchange mods to unlock different secrets and they'll be able to create their own user-generated content.
All of this sounds great, but the key question with wearables is, "Will people actually wear it?" This will be a particularly tricky area for fashion-conscious teens. Adelman is the first to admit they've made "a ton of mistakes" with respect to the visual design of the NEX Band. So, they're turning to their users to help them design the next NEX Band. They have come up with new concepts and their plan is to market the NEX band and let their target market vote to tell them which ones they want to produce.
Mighty Cast has announced the opening up of their API and SDK to extend the NEX Band beyond its core story-telling functionality. For example, one company is currently developing a safety application that can geo-fence. If a child wears one of these geo-fencing mods, once they get outside a certain distance the band will vibrate and light up, also sending a signal to the parent, who can find the child through proximity or through GPS-tracking. This open API and SDK could open the NEX Band beyond their target tween market.
On that note, although Mighty Cast has been thinking mainly about the consumer, there are applications that extend to the enterprise user. For example, Adelman sees opportunity with thousands of different types of sensors currently available and in development. He believes that the NEX Band could function like an open platform for enterprise use, flexible and customizable to business needs. Brands have been approaching Adelman's group, interested in using the NEX Band's proximity features for networking events and matchmaking. Adelman thinks that mods could be like business cards, but better. Since all the data is stored on the Cloud, the mod could reference any kind of information that was associated to the unique ID on that user's NEX Band.
Whether adopted by teens or enterprise, Mighty Cast is betting that a customizable, modular approach to wearable tech will win over users.
Data security is a heavy burden for business. That is particularly true in today's increasingly mobile, distributed workforce. And as the recent Heartbleed debacle pointed out, password technology is deeply fallible. However, new wearable technologies are being developed that will help companies simultaneously keep their data safe and allow their employees anytime anywhere access to key systems and information.
One of the wearable tech companies attempting to solve this problem is Bionym, a spinoff of the University of Toronto that is currently making a product called the Nymi. The Nymi is a small, wearable device that uses electrocardiogram (ECG) to authenticate user identity. In effect, the Nymi turns a person's own heartbeat into a unique key that can be used to unlock any conceivable device. I talked to Bionym President, Andrew D'Souza, about the Nymi, its unique differentiators, and the role it could play for enterprise in making it easier for people to be simultaneously productive and secure.
Andrew D'Souza, President of Bionym, shows off the Nymi
Yury: Tell me more about how the Nymi works?
D'Souza: The Nymi is a wearable device that measures your heartbeat and uses it as a unique biometric to identify you. You put it on once a day, touch it with your opposite hand for a few seconds, it measures your heartbeats, it confirms that you are wearing it, and then it's able to communicate that identity to whatever system or service you use.
If you think about all the proxies we use for identity, badge numbers, pin numbers, multi-factor security tokens; they're all points of friction for our employees and for our customers. We are hoping that the Nymi means the end of things like passwords and pin numbers, and even things like car keys, house keys, credit cards, and boarding passes. We think that a wearable device that's paired with your biometric can be a much easier, more secure form of user identification.
The real unique part of what we're doing with the idea of putting biometrics into a wearable device is this concept of persistent identity. Even with the iPhone with its fingerprint reader, every time I want to access my phone or access an application that's enabled by the touch ID I have to put my fingerprint down. Whereas with the Nymi, you put it on once and until you take it off you're still authenticated.
Yury: BeyondCurious is a digital innovation company that helps large enterprises use technology to disrupt themselves before they are disrupted. So we want to know what wearbles are going to mean for enterprise. For example, what might this concept of persistent identity mean for the travel and hospitality industry?
D'Souza: One thing persistent identity could enable is that you could know who your customer is before they tell you. If you think about an airline, until I walk up to the counter and I give them my passport or my information, they don't know that I'm a frequent flyer or where I'm going. But imagine if an airline could know my identity and flight information as soon as I walk in the door. A device like the Nymi could help take service to the next level.
The Nymi authenticates your identity using your own heartbeat
Yury: Can you give me an example of how persistent identity could help people in the work place?
D'Souza: Probably the most broadly applicable example is proximity-based device access: I sit down at my laptop and all my accounts unlock; it knows that it's me; I get up and walk away, it locks again. And I can log in from anywhere. The company or the system is 100% confident that I'm sitting in front of that terminal or holding that mobile device or tablet.
Yury: What about applications for the automotive or consumer electronics industries?
D'Souza: Automotive is really interesting both on the consumer side and the enterprise side. From the consumer perspective, persistent identity could make it possible for me to access my vehicle, and have it remember my preferences, where I'm going, and what I was listening to. That becomes really interesting in a fleet environment. What if I can just jump into any vehicle and it knows that it's me, it knows where I'm going and all my information?
You can apply that same model to consumer electronics. So, I can go to a bank of phones or tablets and it has my accounts, my information, it knows that I'm holding it. It would load my apps and my e-mails because it knows it's me. I can take my identity and my preferences with me securely and have the devices and the environment react to me.
Yury: That's a really fascinating vision of the future. I can imagine a persistent identity device making a Zipcar experience much more seamless and personalized, for example. That could even have ramifications for autonomous vehicles. And I can actually imagine the credit card companies paying people to wear a device like the Nymi to deter fraud.
D'Souza: Yes, the way this will probably play out is companies - credit card companies, banks, or car companies, or airlines - will basically give these away, buying them for their most valued customers. But what's important is regardless of how you get a Nymi, it'll work throughout the ecosystem. So, if I get it from my airline, I can still connect to my car, can still use it with my personal credit card, etc.
Yury: Do you think this technology is going to take off first with consumers, or with enterprise and why?
D'Souza: I think there are probably more immediate applications in the enterprise. There's a huge opportunity to save people time and mind share by enabling employees to focus on what they're doing and not have to shift focus to log into systems. But what we're very conscious of is that we don't want this to be a shackle; we don't want this to feel like, "Well I got this from my employer and I have to put it on when I get to work and I take it off as soon as I leave and it tracks me." We want it to be a perk.
For this platform to work really well, it's got to cross enterprise and consumer. It's got to be something I put on in the morning so I can access the things I need and value in my personal and professional life, like my house key, car key, my personal accounts, my credit card, my badge card at work, my computer station, etc. Ultimately, the it's my identity. And I trust it.
At BeyondCurious, we live on the cloud. Literally. As an innovation consultancy, we work with leading brands helping them solve complex business problems with digital solutions. Yet, we have no servers, no local applications. Everything in our business is cloud based – providing global access to information and enabling us to scale rapidly as we grow.
To help us stay at the bleeding edge of innovation, we are constantly looking for high impact additions to our digital toolkit. The good news is that in today’s connected economy, there are hundreds of cloud-based solutions that have reinvented established methods to deliver next generation experiences for teams.
Here are five digital tools that BeyondCurious has adopted that are must-haves for any team:
Okta – Single sign on for cloud applications
As the recent Heartbleed debacle has shown, passwords are the Achilles heel of the digital age. And with password requirements becoming more complex, remembering countless passwords is not only a burden; it’s also extremely inefficient. Enter Okta – a simple tool that enables single sign on for cloud applications. With Okta, you only have to remember one password to access everything you need for work. At BeyondCurious, Okta makes it possible for us to access all of our cloud-based systems with a single sign on. It also allows us to easily onboard talent globally – an incredibly useful capability for a company with a global delivery model.
Access all of your applications from one place with Okta
Box – Enterprise document sharing and collaboration
All our documents, whether internal or external, reside on Box. We use Box to help us develop, collaborate on, edit, share, and store all of our digital files with our teams and clients. Now, instead of having to email documents back and forth between the client and team, all parties can edit, comment on, and share documents in one archived system. Box makes it a breeze to collaborate with internal and client teams. With role-based access, you can now securely collaborate with anyone across the globe, at any time, and ensure that your files stay version controlled and backed up.
Global collaboration is easy with Box
daPulse – Task management and coordination
We use very sophisticated project management and team collaboration tools for client engagements. But these tools are too big and complex for smaller, internal initiatives such as producing blogs, or organizing a company event. We were looking for a lightweight, easy-to-use, no training required kind of tool. We found a tool called daPulse that combines project management and communication into one user-friendly interface that is a delight to use. It is designed to facilitate collaboration by providing visibility into tasks, owners, due dates, and status. It has a simple interface with visual cues and updates, providing an instant pulse on topics relevant to the user.
daPulse makes it easy to track inititatives
Small Improvements – Performance management and culture
Our mission is to empower people by unlocking their limitless potential. We are committed to helping people develop mastery and gain autonomy. We believe that self-awareness helps people achieve excellence. However, most performance management solutions in the market are designed for annual or semi-annual performance reviews. We were looking for a tool that is designed for continuous feedback and recognition. We found Small Improvements, a performance tracking tool that helps people understand and track their performance, pushing themselves to unlock their potential and be the best they can be. For example, you can recognize anyone for work well done. You can give them a badge for serious props and you can share feedback provided with anyone in the company. We use this tool to help people develop a deep understanding of their strengths and competencies. We believe that Small Improvements will lead to big gains for BeyondCurious’ clients and teams.
Small Improvements leads to big gains
Geckoboard – Real time visibility into critical information
The right information drives the right action. And the right action drives the right results. In the past, manually created dashboards have helped share information with everyone in the company. But now with Geckoboard, we can share all business critical data with everyone using one integrated dashboard. Geckoboard integrates data real time from finance systems, time tracking systems, and sales and marketing systems into one place and displays it using beautiful data visualization. It even automatically pulls data from excel spreadsheets! Geckoboard is an excellent digital dashboard that provides macro and micro visibility, helping your team make informed business decisions.
Unified view of all data with Geckoboard
What tools do you use to help your teams innovate, and how do you use them?
Excellent client relationships are the foundation of a successful consultancy. But relationship management isn’t always easy. In fact, developing relationships and keeping them strong, even when there are bumps in the road, is one of the hardest skills to learn.
At BeyondCurious, we think a lot about relationships. One of the things we have learned is that like any relationship, client relationships are based on trust, respect, and accountability.
In order to make sure we’re always doing our best to earn and keep client trust, BeyondCurious has developed an “anatomy” of client focus. These guidelines use the simple mnemonic device of our own bodies to remind us of ten key behaviors that help build long term, excellent client relationships.
What have you learned in your years of client relationships? What lessons would you share?
Redg Snodgrass and Kyle Ellicott on the emerging business of wearable tech
The second annual Glazed conference is set to take place June 3-4 in San Francisco at the Regency Center. I spoke to Wearble World and Glazed Conference founders Redg Snodgrass and Kyle Ellicott about the burgeoning wearable economy, and their thoughts on what it will take for the wearable era to truly come into its own.
Redg Snodgrass: This year’s Glazed, in title and theme is all about the “Dawning of the wearable economy.” We’ve blended experts from various businesses like mobile and Facebook - people who have been early adopters driving early revenues on these emerging platforms - with people who are the incumbents in wearable tech. A lot like what we did last year, we’re blending people who have been successful in entering new and emerging markets in the past with people that are driving this new wearable market. Everyone from Motorola wearables to Pebble and Misfit will be at Glazed.
The outcomes of the conference are going to be focused around understanding what the business opportunity is for all of us, and understanding how to capitalize on it. The unique thing about our conference is that we are really clued in to not just the technology that is wearables but also what is going to bring about the business that really makes sense for the community to take it to the next level.
Kyle Ellicott: That’s right. And one of the things we’ve seen grow between the last Glazed and this one is that prior to this, there were still a lot of people trying to understand the space, and trying to understand how to create business around it. They had an idea or they had an app, but that’s it. But now, we’ve reached the place where people are starting to build businesses around it, small and large. We’re really starting to see the fruits of those labors. You have your large companies like Basis and Misfit, but you also have companies like Scully and Drumpants who are not just makers, but are taking their ideas and making them a reality.
The Existing Wearable Tech landscape, courtesy of Wearable World
Carrie Yury: So the wearable economy is starting to “dawn.” It’s not quite there yet, but it’s on its way. Is that where we are?
Redg Snodgrass: Yes. When you look back at the development of the mobile economy, every year people would say, “This is the year of mobile! Mobile is finally here.” Everyone said that every year. I think we’re entering the first or maybe even second year of that with wearables, where everyone’s starting to say, “This is now the year of wearables!” But really, it’s not. The economy is not mature. We still don’t know how we’re going to make money, how we’re going to monetize it. There aren’t a significant number of people wearing anything other than one-off devices that don’t have ecosystems with monetization built around them.
For example, look at social. When Social became tangible was when people figured out how to monetize it. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Friendster – all those things were around for a significant amount of time, but we didn’t see people extracting monetization from those platforms until there were ecosystems built around them. I think wearables are going to go through that too over the next few years. Right now what I want to do is say, okay, these are the principles that made those ecosystems function and create revenue. Let’s learn from those past ecosystems and figure out what tangible take-aways are that we as a community can use. And that’s really the big focus – that’s what we’re going to go after.
You see it embodied in companies like Noor Siddiqui’s Remedy. Siddiqui is a girl that gets it. She’s a 19-year-old Thiel Fellow, she’s creating an application for Google Glass where doctors can see through another person’s Glass. That’s a great way to monetize. She’s already got engagements at Harvard and UPenn. Immediately, there’s a business model that works.
Kyle Ellicott: And for someone like that, she’s working on a product or platform like Glass that’s not yet been released to market, where some features are removed, some are added before the product comes to market. With Google recently removing video from their developer kit, she still has a platform that can do video. So now she’s one of the only people out there who has video-to-video conference calls through Glass. Which is a huge opportunity.
Another thing that’s happened between the two Glazed conferences is acquisition. Before we’d seen a few big companies or players in the space, but there was no real acquisition or huge products to hit market, aside from Google Glass and the Basis watch. But since then we’ve had numerous large products that have come out. Some have succeeded, some have failed, but we’re also starting to see acquisitions, which give more validation to this market and to what is being built. Like Redg said, we’re not there yet, but we’re beginning to see the signs.
Carrie Yury: So can you give an example of what it will take for the wearable economy to really become well established?
Redg Snodgrass: What made the iphone system work was a large user base of highly engaged people working on a platform with exact capabilities. So you knew what capabilities of the phone you could leverage, build out, and create your application. And you were able to tweak and find out which of the phone’s capabilities worked best for you. With Urban spoon it was the ability to use the accelerometer to shake it and the ability to use location so you knew what was near by. You could trust that every iPhone user had the exact same experience. So as these multiple platforms in the wearable space pop up, unless there’s uniformity, you’re going to have a problem.
So in my mind what you want to be able to do is provide a uniform sense of capabilities to a highly engaged mass audience. People need to have the belief that the monetization is going to be there with the sense of security that the capabilities are going to be uniform across different user experiences.
Carrie Yury: You talk about people need the confidence that the technology is going to be there and be supported, which is a great point. Do you see a conference like Glazed giving consumers more confidence in the wearable economy?
Redg Snodgrass: Yes, absolutely. One of the ways we do that is that we challenge the community about the hard issues surrounding wearables so they’re not just glossed over by great marketing. Sometimes I think I’m one of the biggest critics of our movement, but I do that on purpose. I think that through asking and working through the hard questions together we find that path way forward. The entrepreneurs who are building these companies are working together to bring us to outcomes that work.
Carrie Yury: One of the things I loved about the Glazed conference last year was it was such a tigh-knit, intimate community. What will it be like this year?
Redg Snodgrass: The conference is going to be bigger this year by 2x in terms of speakers and attendees. But we’ve worked really hard to generate the same kind of intimacy. And we’ll also be doing a follow up summit later in the year that brings everyone back to that intimacy level, too.
Carrie Yury: I understand that you guys have been doing Wearable Wednesdays throughout the world. Is there any synergy between the Wearable Wednesdays events and Glazed?
Redg Snodgrass: Wearable Wednesdays allows us to touch the community on a regular basis. Right now we’re doing Wearable Wednesdays in about 17 cities across the world, with attendance averaging about 1000 a month. The Wearable Wednesday speakers have been really high level, incredible people. In fact, a lot of the speakers from Glazed are people who have participated in the Wearable Wednesdays events. And, many of the challenges or questions that we are going to be talking about at Glazed come directly from the Wearable Wednesday events. So there’s great synergy between the two events.
Kyle Ellicott: The exciting thing is that we’re seeing much larger, global reach, as well. We had representation from a few different parts of the world last year. But this year, we’ve not only attended global wearable events, but we have our own events and conferences around the world, too. Our brand is much more global than it once was. So Glazed is going to be a much more global conference, as well.
Carrie Yury: What are one or two wearables that you guys are excited about lately?
Kyle Ellicott: I’m a little biased, because I like all of the companies we work with, but outside of those, there are a few I’d mention. For example, I love the design of Drumpants. I’m curious to see what is going to happen with the Moto 360 watch. And of course I’m excited to see the Avegant Glyph.
Redg Snodgrass: I could list them off for days. There’s the Emotiv Insight, Scully Helmets, Estimote. The list goes on and on.
In this age of the quantified self, a lot of attention has been paid to wearable technologies. From Pebble and Misfit Shine to FitBit and Jawbone Up, wearable devices can track every aspect of our bodies. The quantified self movement isn’t just for fun; a detailed, specific understanding of our own metrics, from how many steps we take to how much we sleep we get, is helping to encourage positive behavioral shifts.
However, in spite of public enthusiasm for activity trackers that measure our bodies, much less attention is being paid to tracking our brains. If wearable technology can track our physical health, why can’t it help us track our mental heath?
Tan Le is helping to answer that question. Le is founder of Emotiv Inc,a company that is developing affordable, consumer grade, wearable EEG (electroencephalogram) headpieces, or, as the company calls them, "brainwear." Emotiv has already spent years successfully producing the EPOC, an EEG-fueled headpiece that provides scientific contextualized EEG and also allows users to control objects with their minds.
Now Le is using that same technology to help unlock people’s brains.
Tan Le with the Emotiv Insight
The Emotiv Insight is a sleek, kickstarter-funded consumer EEG headpiece. Set to come out later this year, the Insight will be able to help track mental health and cognitive fitness. To get an idea of what this might mean in the mental health arena, think about the following: currently EEG’s are taken when there is already something wrong – after a traumatic brain injury, for example. But by taking a baseline of a person’s normal cognitive function, the Emotiv Insight will make it easier for average people to be able to evaluate deviation from the norm. Emotiv Insight will allow users to optimize their brain fitness and performance, measure and monitor their own cognitive health & wellbeing. Using a framework based on well-understood core principles of brain health, the Emotiv Insight can measure how your brain stacks up in each of the core areas necessary for optimum cognitive performance. The Insight can measure, track and help users improve their attention, focus, engagement, interest, excitement, affinity, and relaxation. It can also be used to help reduce stress levels.
It doesn’t seem that hard for the average brain to hit all five of those points on a daily basis. However, Le points out that in our busy, multitasking, high-pressure lives, people tend to neglect certain areas of cognitive function. For example, an executive may feel extremely challenged with a diverse array of tasks and cognitive functions, but may be lacking in novelty, physical exercise, or restorative sleep. With wearables like the Emotiv Insight, users will be able to measure and monitor their cognitive health and wellbeing, and optimize their brain fitness and performance. Using the Emotiv Insight companion app, users will be able to set specific challenges for themselves in order to develop those parts of their brain that may be underutilized.
The short-term benefits of ensuring optimal cognitive performance are obvious – we will do better at work. But the long-term benefits are just as critical. The reason it’s so important to tend to all five areas is simple: we’re living longer. Just as our retirement funds are going to have to stretch longer into the future, so our cognitive “bank” needs to be as full as possible in order to extend with us into old age.
As mentioned above, the Emotiv Insight will not just track productivity-based cognitive performance. It can also be applied to mental health. Currently, EEG machines are ugly, cumbersome and prohibitively expensive, starting in the thousands of dollars. But if everyday consumers had easy access to EEGs, it could potentially unlock a great deal of knowledge, not just for individuals, but also for society. Inexpensive, comfortable, consumer-grade EEG headpieces could help everyone from toddlers with cerebral palsy and adults with epilepsy to elderly people with cognitive dysfunction.
For example, a population that Le believes could benefit from widely available consumer EEG technology would be children with ADHD. Over prescription of medication for ADHD has long been suspected to be rampant in the US. But last summer the FDA approved marketing “the first medical device based on brain function to help assess attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents 6 to 17 years old.” The device, which is based on EEG technology, can greatly aid with accurate diagnosis and prevent potentially unnecessary medication by reading the beta and theta waves characteristic of children with ADHD.
As Le said, widely available consumer EEG technologies like the Emotiv Insight will mean that, “a new horizon is going to open up and enable us to make better decisions” to improve performance and maintain lifelong brain health. And that’s good news.
Apps get a lot of press and attention. But new technologies are about to change mobile as we know it.
Here are five futuristic technologies that are poised to transform how we interact with our mobile phones and what they know about us, squarely positioning the mobile phone as our most essential digital device.
Next Generation 3D HTML5 Frameworks
What if the nature of interaction design changed so that instead of just using scroll and swipe, designers were able to zoom, spin, and twist? For example, would Pinterest be more interesting if we could zoom in to uncover stories rather than just scrolling?
Next generation HTML5 frameworks, becoming available in the coming months, will make these immersive experiences possible by leveraging everything from game mechanics, physics engines, and CSS animations, to platform-specific trickeries like hardware acceleration. All this will be available without having to learn complex game engines or worrying about cross-platform compatibility.
Checkout famo.us and Subatomic Systems, two such companies creating these frameworks, and imagine the possibilities!
Mobile SDK’s From Wearable Gear Providers
Would Zappos’ app be able to provide better shoe recommendations if it knew my walking habits, or would Walgreen’s app give me better OTC medicine recommendations if it knew my sleep cycle?
Hyper personalization will make these kinds of scenarios a reality. The rapid adoption of wearable technology and mobile SDK’s that come bundled with wearables like Pebble will enable mobile apps to get access (with proper privacy controls) to even deeper user context. Access to user information and context will create more personalized mobile experiences. In the not too distant future, your mobile device could know you better than you know yourself.
PICO Projectors Integrated Into Mobile Devices
Imagine a shopping experience where you could project your dress next to the perfect pair of shoes to complete your look, or project that couch you are considering into your living room.
Pico projectors integrated with smartphones will enable these kinds of experiences by converting any surface into an instant screen. This isn't science fiction; Samsung has already done it, and Apple has filed patents indicating they may soon follow the same path. The possibilities are endless.
Advanced Gesture Controls
Imagine a car game on your mobile device where you feel the steering wheel and are able to control it mid-air or feel the terrain on your touch screen while seeing a map on your mobile device.
Advanced Haptic systems from Bristol, Microsoft, Disney and others bring the “sensory” experience of touching an object to the digital world. Through the use of ultra sound impulses, or electro-vibration-based display, the user (or really, the brain) can be tricked into thinking there is dimensionality to the object beneath the display. Soon we’ll be one step closer to bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds.
Super Sonic Speeds
Apple’s latest iPhone 5s has a 64 bit processor that is 40x faster than the original iPhone. That’s almost PC-like power in a very small device. In addition, data compression technologies from companies like AlgoTrim (recently acquired by Apple), decrease network data by as much as 50%. This kind of processing power and data compression will enable mobile to take center stage and become the brain for the “digital connected self” ecosystem.
Are you ready for the future of mobile?
Vishal Agarwal is CTO at BeyondCurious, Inc.