Voice is becoming the new normal, long live the conversation

Do you remember a time before social media when people used to converse and talk? 

Over the last few years these verbal communication skills have declined as everyone became more insular as they “collaborated” online and the most important factor was how many followers you had and what was written on your feed or wall. Real life suddenly took a backseat to what your friends were doing and the obsession with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) rather than actually living life to the full and talking.

This medium of communication is however starting to fight back and maybe sometime in the future you may hear people talking to each other on public transport rather than staring at their mobile devices with their headphones on.  Initially you may need to decide who your new best friend is from the growing list of virtual assistants be it Alexa, Cortana, Siri, Google or Bixby as your interaction with devices, appliances and even the internet will soon be voice enabled.

In a recent study from IDC it was found that almost 50 percent of new mobile apps use voice as a primary interface and Amazon has even launched Alexa for Business where employees can use Alexa on their own personal devices to make calls, manage their calendars, run to-do lists, set reminders, and locate information stored in third-party corporate applications, such as Salesforce, Concur or Splunk etc. These advances in digital assistants will allow the Intelligent enterprise to enable employees to conversationally interact with key applications and data insights, leverage the capabilities of natural language processing and machine learning to offer a cognitive and conversational user experience where they will be guided through complex workflows and provided insights and suggestions for the next step. . There is even a “Read Aloud” mode natively in the Microsoft Edge Browser.

Gartner has also reaffirmed these changes in their Top 10 Strategic Predictions for 2018 and Beyond in saying that “By 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30 percent” and that by 2019, more than half of all mobile searches will be voice or visual searches.

So in the future don’t forget we all have a voice and don’t necessarily want to sit in silence when we interact with technology

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The Future is Connected

One of the best indicators for organisations into future trends and disruption is to follow all the usual suspects i.e. product launches, trade shows, conferences, press releases etc but then consider what isn’t being said. Most innovations launch with enough pomp and ceremony to hook the early adopters, however, to become truly mainstream most innovations need to interact with an ecosystem and as most venture capitalists will attest, unicorns usually have pivoted numerous times since the original funding rounds.

One of the best trade shows of the year is CES (Consumer Electronics Show) held every January in Las Vegas and this year did not disappoint. In addition to the normal incremental product launches this year was all about the Smart Home rising and the products announced would satisfy any home need, Samsung even announced that by 2020 all their products from TVs to Washing machines would be “smart”. The home products showcased ranged from Smart Fridges, Washing machines, Thermostats, Cameras, Alarms, Deadlocks,Showers, Wall Plugs, Baby Monitors, Garage door sensors, light switches and even garden hose watering systems.

If you consider my provocation to consider the things that are not mentioned how will all these products work together in the truly smart home as you certainly wouldn’t want a separate app for each. The voice assistants are starting to fill this gap (Amazon with the Echo, Google with the Home Mini etc) they are still closed systems that do not cover everything. Also, the elephant in the room is how exactly will these be connected to the internet? Most people have a reasonable WIFI speed however if you divide your download speed (MBPS) by all the connected products above you wouldn’t have any bandwidth left to watch your favourite program on Netflix let alone surf the internet. Theoretically you can connect 200+ devices to a Wi-Fi router however that doesn’t take in account that you are connected through a single home internet connection and manufacturers seem to recommend between 15-40 connections at most which would not last long in a family home once you take away all the mobiles, tablets and smart TVs. Therefore until Router technology improves or different consumer grade options become available for households to easily create mesh networks it may be a few years before we can rush out to completely kit out our homes which is lucky because there still isn’t an standard which says what blockchain the devices will connect through or even what crypto currency you would need to replenish your fridge.

When these Innovations do eventually land however (could be in next 10 years) the disruption / opportunity will ripple through every sector and will affect Insurance, Retail, Banking, Utility provision, to name but a few. The future will be connected so get ready.

A Glimpse of tomorrows tech

Even though technology appears to be getting more complicated, more expensive and refreshed more often this generally ensures that it is enjoyed by everyone much sooner.  The big problem is that unless the new  component parts are mass produced in sufficient numbers to reduce the price point it stays out of reach for the masses.  However when the  marquee players like Apple, Google, Samsung etc. introduce new innovations they tend to enter product ecosystems much sooner.  2017 has been a very interesting year for technology and in this update I thought I would share a few of the innovations which I predict that when they enter the mass market will disrupt the technology we use at home and in work.

Facial Recognition – The iPhone X will introduce Facial Identification via their True depth camera which uses 30k light sensors projected on the face to create an encrypted  facial map to aid authentication instantly on the device

Real Time Translation – Google’s Pixel Bud headphones will  bring real-time translation with Google Translate. Just touch and hold the right earbud to activate the Google Assistant on your Pixel 2 mobile and the in built speaker will translate what you say.  There are 40 languages available today.

Cameras – The new high end smartphones now have near SLR quality dual cameras that can record in 4k and have x10 zoom for photos and x6 zoom for video

Virtual Reality – Both Google and Facebook via Oculus are making great strides in Augmented and Virtual reality.  Oculus is offering a standalone headset in early 2018 for just $199 which will bring the price point to a consumable level.

Charging – The new high end smartphones are all offering wireless charging

Stylus – Samsung and Apple are both offering more options with regards to stylus/pens/Spens where they are starting to be more pen like rather than the size of a piece of chalk

Voice Controlled Smart Speakers – This year Amazon, Google and Apple very soon are all bringing out various sizes of “always on” smart speakers for the home.

If you just consider the above elements these could easy be incorporated into anything that requires authentication, video conferences, home security plus removing the wires on every device we use, so sit back as everything we use today is about to change for the better and good riddance to all those cables.

AI will be a great leveler

Over the last few years as technology has become increasingly cheaper, faster and accessible by all through the cloud, Artificial Intelligence has never been far from the headlines.  When you think of AI you probably think of Robots and the Terminator films or maybe autonomous vehicles however it is much wider than this.  Today AI is incorporated in no end of devices and already it is showing up in game development, autonomous vehicles, chatbots, robo-advisors, digital assistants (Alexa, Siri, Cortana etc) to name but a few.  The overall research goal of artificial intelligence is to create technology that allows computers and machines to function in an intelligent manner. The general problem of simulating (or creating) intelligence has been broken down into sub-problems and these include topics like Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.  ML (Machine Learning) is also fast becoming the litmus test of forward thinking companies although adoption is currently low outside of the technology sector and there are few large scale deployments.

Today most data science is completed by actuaries and in house data analysis teams where the past is studied to predict the future.  However in this changing world this is no longer just the answer as AI can make predictions in Real time and looking into the past will not predict the behaviour expected from events like Brexit, Global Warning, tensions with North Korea, immigration increases etc as they have never happened before.  Also as wider data sets available to all are leveraged non-traditional players will start to enter the market.  Also just think if somebody created an app store to sell algorithms to solve problems across all industries which did just this.  The only differentiator would be the incumbents own data sets.

There are hundreds of applications for AI which will improve service, create efficiencies, reduce cost and provide competitive advantage and at the moment incumbents are best placed to leverage the widely available data sets merged with their own. However numerous non-traditional players are using technology to create or crowdsource big data sets of their own and IDC (International Data Corporation) forecasts worldwide revenues for Cognitive and Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will reach $12.5 billion in 2017 and raise to $46 billion by 2021. So it may only be a decade before AI becomes fully mainstream so everyone will need to embed Machine Learning at the core of their business to ensure they are best placed to take advantage of in future.

FinTech as an Ideation Source

The Financial Services industry continues to be fueled by the FinTech’s influence and these newcomers are providing a renewed experience which is being embraced by their tech savvy customers.  However, in this fast-changing environment of regulation and technology, these disrupters can provide a valuable source of Ideation and insight into the potential changes which will eventually become mainstream.  Most Fintechs try to disrupt a niche area within a market to get a foothold. However, the incumbents already have the existing relationships so even though people may dabble it takes a brave person to fully commit to the unknown. So having a “Disruption Radar” will provide an enterprise with a valuable pipeline for consideration to turn the incumbent into a disrupter.  If for example you were asked about Challenger Banks you would probably mention Metro, Monzo, ATOM, Starling or maybe even Revolut, however after this you may start to struggle.  After searching the internet I managed to come across 54 challengers that were either in existence or will be soon

Abacus; Amicus; APS Financial; Atom Bank; Axis Bank UK; Babb; Bank of Lambeth; BFC; British Business Bank; Cambridge & Counties Bank; Charter Savings Bank; CivilisedBank; ClearBank; Coconut (formerly Monizo); Community Savings Bank Association (CSBA); Coombs Bank; Copernicus Bank; DiPocket; Contis Group; FairFX; FCMB UK; Ffrees; Fidor Bank: Hampden & Co; Hampshire Community Bank; Hampshire Trust Bank; Iam Bank; ICBC UK; Lintel Bank; Loot; Masthaven; Metro Bank; Monese; Monzo (formerly Mondo); OakNorth; OneSavings Bank; Paragon Bank; Pockit; Private and Commercial Finance Group (PCFG); Redwood Bank; Revolut; Secco Aura; Shawbrook Bank; Soldo; Starling Bank; Tandem; Templewood Bank; Thinkmoney; Tide; The Services Family; Together Money; Ummah Finance; Union Bank of India (UK) Limited; Wyelands Bank

From this list I then chose a random selection to try and define what their unique USP was from their websites and came up with the following.

Login using face and voice recognition, 24×7 support, interest prediction, instant loans for DDs falling following day, Blockchain, community savings, SME business Banking, Bankers Oath, Account Opened in 3 minutes, Account opened in 2 minutes, No frills, Multicurrency Payments, Safe and Friendly Mobile Banking, Bank for people who live on their phones, Apple Store for Banking,  Banking for generation Snapchat, Physical Stores open 7 days a week, Instant credit card and cheque book, Intelligent notifications, P2P Payments.

Its all about Data and Mobile Devices

Do you remember when you wanted a fixed telephone line in your house or mobile just to make telephone calls rather than access the Internet? The world has certainly changed in the last 17 years since the rollout of Broadband in the UK and so has the enterprise’s position on their offerings. Now most companies are moving to become a Data Provider or Creator with the net result that calls/texts are now becoming free and consumers only paying for the data.    This new data focus is certainly consumer driven however consumption patterns are changing too as technology preferences stabilise.

In a recent report entitled “future in focus 2017” by Comscore (although focused on the US market) it highlighted a range of interesting statistics.  The US Smartphone market is reaching saturation at 81%; desktop usage is declining and the tablet market flattening (this is in direct correlation to the increase in 4.5inch + mobile sales).

Since 2013 Smartphones have seen a +99% increase in usage, Tablets +26% and Desktops -8%.  The average person is now spending 2hrs 51 minutes a day on their mobile which equates to 71% of their digital experience (61% in the UK) and the biggest increase in apps are ones which improve real time behaviours i.e. hailing cabs, traffic navigation, making shopping/selling fun, mobile wallets etc. (Waze, Uber, Wish, Venmo, Lyft etc).

However even though everyone is favouring mobile the sales conversation rate is still lower than traditional or tablet channels (although Mobile is the only medium seeing constant growth) so it may be a few years before smartphones take the lion share or possibly not.

Remember mobiles have only been finding their footing over the last few years and have now come of age. It is claimed that certain markets have now reached saturation and the processing power (the new 2017 handsets will be able to handle AR/VR) being offered is similar to PCs.  Also with the increased form factor (4.5 inch +) we will suddenly see smartphones displacing tablets upon replacement.  Don’t also forget that the increased security (Biometrics), waterproofing and high end cameras are making these devices a one stop shop.  Therefore the time is right to start developing for mobile, in the past responsive sites were top priority, however this probably explains why purchases are still being made on traditional channels.  We constantly talk about the digital native and then design applications which are responsive and as we know “one size does not fit all”.  In the future advances will be seen by those whose customer journey is built from the bottom up with small form factors in mind and not the desktop.  There are very few sites that really get it right today so the opportunity if out there for the taking

Reality 2.0

The thought of changing ones perception and entering a Virtual or Augmented Reality is not new.  However over the last few years the technology has advanced to where the price point is now within everyone’s grasp.  Back in June 2016 I wrote about AR so this time I will provide some insights into VR.

Virtual Reality as we know it today originated from Science fiction and its first reference is believed to have come from the 1935 short story “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” by Stanley G Weinbaum  where he described a goggle-based virtual reality system with holographic recording of fictional experiences, including smell and touch.  Since then there have been numerous products which have lead us to today and I imagine everyone has used something that tried to enhance reality  (Back in 1939 View-Master  stereoscopes were introduced) or seen a Program that glorified the Technology (In 1974 the Holodeck made its debut on Star Trek. ).   In its infancy VR mainly resided in the gaming community however recently it has fragmented into multi price point options accessible by all.

At the low end we are seeing headsets which range from Cardboard to Googles Latest Daydream View  where Apps can be downloaded onto your phone and the phone used as the viewing platform.  Just search VR on the Apple or Google App stores and see the options; they are not just games.

At the high end however even more Innovation is being seen.  With the likes of the HTC Vive  and the Oculus Gear or Rift suddenly enterprise grade headsets are appearing that can solve enterprise problems.  Applications are now being created where the headsets can be used for immersive, education, engineering and medical procedures.  In the Business environment you just need to forget the gaming angle and suddenly the possibilities are endless.  Any Digital process which can be changed in real time could be viewed via a headset and changed in seconds to enable Agile development.  Think of the Marketing opportunities and how the sales process could start before the final product is finished.  As the technology matures over the next few years and its price point moves to a consumable item everyone will be embracing Reality 2.0.