Less than a decade into the smartphone revolution there’s incredible turbulence in the consumer technology space. Especially for those looking to build and position businesses within it. The tussles between the heavyweights, dominated by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android in recent years, is largely done say some analysts.
New battle grounds are opening up — social networks and messaging apps are building platforms on top of the operating systems, and there are revolutionary paradigms waiting to have their turn; notably the internet of things, and augmented and virtual reality. On the one hand, wending your way through this constantly shifting environment is daunting. You don’t want to be caught on a declining platform, or missing a revolution because of ties to old businesses.
But many of these trends are still nascent, waiting for someone to truly seize the potential they hold. These consumer trends are all opportunities to be seized.
1) Messaging is the new sliced bread
One of the biggest tech stories of recent years has been the rise of messaging apps and their subsequent diversification into all manner of other side businesses. Messaging apps are turning out to be a dominant force of the mobile revolution — boasting huge reach, a user base that checks in multiple times a day and cross-device accessibility. This is best exemplarised by China’s WeChat, a messaging app that has leveraged its hundreds of millions of users into an ecosystem of more than ten million third party apps. WeChat users will log into the app not only to chat with friends, but to pay bills, order cabs and food, check the news, play games and even take out loans.
But WeChat isn’t alone in this. The big four messaging apps — WeChat, Facebook Messenger, Viber and WhatsApp now pull in more active users than the social media titans. And this is before we include the likes of Snapchat, Hipchat and Slack, all of whom are developing their own app stores or otherwise opening up for developers to build on top of them. This presents a huge opportunity for everyone from game designers to logistics companies.
Messaging apps present an interesting opportunity for more than their scale and user stickyness. They offer profoundly new ways of interacting with users. For instance, Facebook made headlines earlier this year with the introduction of Chatbots — allowing developers to create bots that can “talk” to users. More than 5,000 e-commerce alerts and notifications were sent through Facebook bots in the first month.
2) The rise of voice
Virtual Assistants have been around for years, most famously in our phones as Apple’s Siri and Android’s OK Google. But the last year has seen them take a giant leap forward, as more tech platforms adopt them, and in interesting ways. An integral part of Apple’s new Mac operating system is Siri, as the virtual assistant starts to cross platforms. But the company has also opened up Siri to developers, allowing better and more integration, and for developers to start harnessing the power of voice.
Potentially, however, it’s not even Apple that poses the biggest upside for voice. It’s Amazon. The company launched its Echo home speaker only recently, but after opening it up to developers in June last year has seen explosive growth. Tens of thousands of third party developers are now working on adding abilities and functions — there are 1400 as of June this year, and tens of millions of dollars in funding has been secured to see this through.
All of this is coming before the real takeoff in voice control. A recent survey of Americans — where most of the movement is currently happening and is restricted to, showed only a bare majority of users had even tried virtual assistants. Most don’t use them regularly, yet.
3) Virtual reality is going to be huge
Virtual reality is another big battleground among the tech titans, as they move to position themselves in what is likely to become a huge market. Already it looks like Google and Facebook, the two heavy weights in this field, are set for a big tussle. But no-matter who the dominant platforms and hardware suppliers turn out to be, as it currently stands virtual reality offers no end of possibilities.
Facebook envisions a world of virtual social hang outs, where goggles go further in bridging the gap between real interaction and online interaction. Google has taken steps to democratise virtual reality with cardboard, and has begun to envision how virtual reality will revolutionise what a “website” looks like. But the real democratisation of virtual reality is coming through the commodification of parts — largely piggybacking off what mobile has done to the cost and power of processors, and by 2020 virtual reality headsets are projected to be a lot more mainstream. Until then, it’s the perfect first movers opportunity.
4) Pokemon Go is just the beginning of mass-use augmented reality
Every breakthrough technology needs something that captures the public’s attention for it to be adopted. Something that makes it tangible and useful, even if it’s not perfect yet. For touchscreens it was the iPhone, for the blockchain it was Bitcoin, and for augmented reality it was Pokemon Go. Augmented reality isn’t new. Ikea, for example, debuted an augmented reality catalogue way back in 2013 that allowed you to visualise how furniture would fit in your house. And that’s not even counting some of the amazing things Snapchat has been doing with filters for quite a while now.
But all of a sudden a lot of people are paying attention, as millions walk around collecting pokemon and the entrepreneurial cash in. And investors are there. Along with virtual reality, capital is pouring into developing augmented reality applications. Also like virtual reality, the possibilities of augmented reality currently seem limitless, and there are already a host of incredible ideas floating around. Especially notable for startups hoping to leverage AR into other fields — the likes of “virtual mirrors”, that allow users to “try on” fashion remotely.
5) Wearables are coming, and they’re probably going to be huge in e-commerce
Just like augmented reality, wearables have been around for years, and have been hyped the entire time. Fitness bands, glasses and watches aren’t revolutionary, but they are slowly gaining acceptance and functionality. And as the likes of Apple and Samsung turn their wearables into platforms developers can play on, an ecosystem builds up around them like the influx of NFC readers at payment terminals, consumers become more accepting of nofications, and wearables become a part of how we communicate and authenticate with our other devices, the potential is only growing.
Already, a huge number of wearables have payment functionality built in. But as with authentication, this is projected to grow considerably — Apple’s watch is already a part of Apple Pay, and long before this it was deeply integrated into digital payments. And that’s not counting the addition of the wearables producted by Fitbit, Garmin and a host of companies that likely don’t exist yet.
This is before we even start mentioning data — the ostensible golden goose of wearables. The data from wearables heralds a leap forward in personalisation. But this won’t be restricted to the likes of healthcare, but extended to e-commerce. Where are people looking while on the page, how are they reacting to what they see or feel, and what does it all mean. The key will be packaging up all of this data, and making it useful. In a world already awash with information, understanding will continue to be very valuable.
6) Contextual buying
Remember how you used to browse through magazine spreads featuring all manner of products that gave you information about the item and its price, and where to buy it? The gap that remained for the makers of those products was the ability to make them conveniently available to people. The “last mile” connecting a consumer to a product they want has been rapidly closed with the introduction of contextual buying platforms like PayPal Commerce that allow retailers to make their products available to customers on websites or in their social media stream. See a lamp you like on Pinterest? Buying it can be just a click away.
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