The coming post-mobile world: LTE Smartwatches and the Age of Assistance
by Joshua Lowcock – Head of Digital/Innovation at Universal McCann
Thank you to Joshua Lowcock for this insightful piece of thought leadership. We thought it would be interesting to our members.
It’s been ten (10) years since the release of the iPhone and five (5) years since Facebook’s pivot to mobile. We have collectively witnessed mobile transform categories and industries from photography (Instagram) to music (Spotify); to banking (ApplePay) and transportation (Uber). From a media perspective, mobile first has become an accepted maxim and statistics that 50% of YouTube is mobile don’t even raise an eyebrow.
Which is why, in September 2017, during Apple’s Keynote, there was a product announcement that signified we are entering the post-mobile era. This announcement has the potential to be as, if not more, disruptive than the arrival of the smartphone. It was the Apple Watch with LTE. Being bold, Apple got it wrong when they said the iPhone X signaled the start of the era when the device disappears into the experience. It was not the iPhone X, it was actually the Apple Watch LTE.
It’s worth noting, Apple is not the first company to release an LTE enabled wearable. Samsung and LG have LTE enabled smartwatches for a while (with mixed success). What makes the Apple Watch LTE different is Apple’s attention to detail and integrated ecosystem. Specifically, the Apple Watch LTE uses the same number as your phone, so you can leave your iPhone at home yet family, friends and colleagues can still call your standard mobile number; and the integrated ecosystem with Apple AirPods.
We might all dream of being Dick Tracy or Tony Stark, taking a call from our wrist – but the reality is the experience and call quality have been historically lacking. Apple’s AirPods and their connectivity with the Apple Watch means you can now be phone free and still make a quality handsfree call. Expect every other smartwatch manufacturer to quickly close this gap across the own wearable range. In the short term, this means announcements of smart earphones will outpace smart glasses particularly given the slower social acceptance of the latter. Snapchat may have made photo taking glasses fun with Spectacles, but the industry’s bruised ego hasn’t really recovered from Google Glasses and “glassholes”.
Predicting when the post-mobile era will have a material impact on media and marketing is difficult, but instinctively it feels that in about three (3) years we’ll see the emergence of the “mobile light consumer”. Why three (3) years? This is because a productive mobile light consumer will rely on a strong AI/assistant environment and the building blocks are already in place. We are six (6) years into Siri (which Apple has really let languish) and three (3) years into Amazon Echo and only one (1) year into Google Assistant. So in about two (2) years, expect further leaps and bounds in assistants and then rapid adoption and use of assistants on wearable devices. In fact, the Apple Watch LTE is a watershed moment for the Age of Assistance as much as it is for the beginning of the “mobile-light” wearable first era. Google, via Android, has an edge in this regard over Apple, given the sophistication of Google Assistant (and history with Google Now).
The Age of Assistance is important because the consumer who elects to leave their phone at home; who doesn’t have a large screen or access to a keyboard, will interact primarily by voice. Whether it be Google Assistant, Amazon Echo, or Facebook M. For brands, this means experimenting with Alexa Apps and messenger bots is a valuable way to get ahead of learning’s needed to succeed in the mobile light era. Voice is going to be a winner takes all battleground, because unlike text, in voice you only get one result. Knowing your customer well enough to give the right answer to the question will be key to success. Siri is often the butt of jokes for being unable to answer questions in a meaningful way. How frustrated will customers be with your brand if you can’t answer in a meaningful way via a voice assistant?
From a media and advertising perspective, expect a double-down on location-aware advertising. Apple has some good assets here with their Wallet (formerly Passbook) offering. Wallet can bring up location-aware loyalty cards and coupons, although brands will need to be careful about not being too intrusive. We may even see device makers throttle certain types of notifications, like the Facebook feed, as there will be a need strike a balance between utility while avoiding advertising notification overload. This means brands will need to learn how to have authentic conversations in the micro-moment they get to have a 1:1 voice or messenger chat with customers.
Haptics may prove to be new fertile advertising ground, especially as consumers may not always be wearing earphones – a gentle bump on the wrist to draw consumer attention to your store or possibly your OOH media placement. Brands might even rush to patent certain haptic patterns, which could be as key as sound trademarks, “ah, that gentle rhythmic tap on my wrist reminds me of Coca Cola“. Cross-device will not diminish in value if anything it will increase. With wearable’s providing data points and insights needed for smarter targeting on other platforms. Knowing when, where and how long a customer has been in a location will inform more decisions in the future, “Did their hand reach for my product but then select a competitor?” One of the reason’s Snap Inc’s acquisition of Placed in June of 2017, a mobile location measurement company, was particularly prescient.
The reason to be more bullish on smartwatches as the hallmark of the mobile light future is not just the glassholes hangover. Smart glasses to be truly smart, rely on computing power. Snap Inc’s Spectacles work without your phone in your pocket (to take video) but frame size and battery life constrain the ability to integrate a screen, video filters, and connectivity in a standalone device. As yet, you can’t send a Snap from your spectacles without being tethered to your phone and even then if you could, it would require a smart assistant that you could understand your instructions. Of note, the success of smart glasses and Augmented Reality (AR) are as reliant on the Age of Assistance as LTE enabled smartwatches paired with smart earphones. So either way, expect GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) to continue doubling down on assistance, voice and AI.
In context to smartwatches, smart glasses are better positioned as a mobile companion compared to LTE enabled smartwatches. As smartwatches can serve as a mobile alternative. This may be disappointing for some, as the media and marketing opportunities for Augmented Reality (AR) via smart glasses seem more exciting than that of smartwatch only media. The Age of Augmentation that smart glasses can deliver unlocks scenarios such as eyewear that automatically recognizes people, alerts you of prices and product info, etc. via a discrete screen. But when you dig into this, most of this could be achieved using a combination of discrete in-ear audio and accurate location data (GPS, compass, and accelerometer). This means that the long-hyped Minority Report style personal advertising can be achieved via audio and existing digital OOH media with an LTE enabled smartwatch and paired earphones.
Like all predictions of the future, I could be way off the mark on this. The biggest barrier right now is you cannot set up a smartwatch (or any other wearable for that matter) without also owning a smartphone. Netflix and Hulu tapped into the desire to be free of cable, and it is possible to be a ditch cable and be a cord cutter, by subscribing to the internet only and getting your entertainment elsewhere. Right now, the mobile light consumer can’t be truly mobile free – as smartwatches (and all wearables) have to be activated and setup using a smartphone. Perhaps a subconscious form of iPhone self-preservation by Apple? What will fan the flames of the mobile light and post-mobile era will be when you can buy an LTE smartwatch or wearable device that doesn’t expect, require or even need a smartphone. Then we will all enjoy the liberating feeling of walking out of the house with just a watch and our earphones.