Each new year brings technological advances that promise to change consumer behaviour, and therefore to change the products, propositions and marketing channels brands use to reach customers. Earlier in the year we visited the Web Summit in Dublin and in January we’ll be reporting on the latest developments at Las Vegas’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – based on our in-depth research these are technologies that Marketing Week is tipping to be transformative in 2015.
1. Autonomous automobiles and connected cars
CES will feature speeches from Mercedes, Ford and General Motors, undoubtedly raising the expectation that in-car technology and self-driving vehicles are set to make major advances next year. It’s an expectation shared by Forrester analyst Frank Gillett.
“The automotive industry has over-invested in new car technology and under-invested in using mobile apps and services to build brand relationships with existing customers,” he says. “What I’ll be watching for are signs of the auto industry embracing the mobile mind-shift.”
Meanwhile, although there may not be millions of self-driving cars on our roads in 2015, January will see the first UK tests on public highways in Greenwich, Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. It has been allowed in some US states since 2012, and in 2014 Google reiterated its plans to release a commercial product between 2017 and 2020.
2. Machine learning
This is the technology that makes it possible for apps and other services to improve their performance over time. It’s using this principle that dating site eHarmony gets progressively better at matching potential partners, by understanding which combinations of responses to its questionnaire are most likely lead to a successful relationship.
Just before Christmas, Microsoft launched Skype translate, which allows users to make calls over the internet to people who don’t speak their language by providing a simultaneous speech-to-speech translation. It requires the software to understand strings of words and phrases and uses machine learning to constantly improve its accuracy. The implication is that eventually any conversation or piece of content should be immediately translatable into any language.
Not only that, Microsoft corporate vice-president Susan Hauser also says increasing access to machine learning creates “more opportunities for organisations to use machine learning for data-driven decision making”.
CES 2015 will have a dedicated area for drones, while its robotic exhibits are currently up by 25% on 2014. These remote-controlled airborne machines will have a big year in 2015, with Facebook aiming to use them to expand wireless internet access to under-served regions, such as in Africa.
Amazon and Google are currently testing commercial uses of drones for delivering goods, while Jay Bregman, founder of taxi-booking app Hailo, now heads a venture aiming to improve their safety and reliability. But they will need to convince regulators drones pose no threat to passenger planes. The US’s Federal Aviation Authority is behind schedule on plans to allow drones into American airspace, even though it had a deadline of September 2015.
Michael Perry of drones developer DJI says that 2015 will see “lots of innovation and creativity from the people who are already thinking about how these tools can change the world”.
4. Image recognition
Online retailer Amazon has already placed big bets on image recognition, integrating the technology into both its main iOS app and the Firefly function of its Fire smartphone in the summer of 2014. Sensing the potential for enabling ‘showrooming’ – where consumers go online to check prices of products while also browsing them in stores – US retailer Target quickly hit back with its own image recognition app.
Image recognition looks set to play an increasingly important role in brand experiences, enabling people to scan physical objects with their phone in order to find related content online, replacing clunkier technologies such as QR codes and augmented reality.
The applications could include “booking a holiday from looking at a postcard [or] buying tickets for your favourite band when you walk past a poster”, according to Charlotte Golunski, co-founder of Sense, a platform that hosts contextual image data that can be accessed by wearable devices.
5. An expanding ‘internet of things’
British Gas’s Hive offering and the Google-owned Nest thermostat have already shown that the internet of things presents opportunities for new products within the home, and that’s where many of 2015’s connected technologies will be focused.
Forrester’s Gillett says Samsung will lead the way “as it seeks new sources of revenue to replace the decline in its smartphone sales. The connected home is evolving to being mobile-centric, creating convenience and ease, rather than just monitored security.” He also expects innovations in 2015 from “established players like Honeywell and Schlage, and aspiring startups like Wink and Curb Energy”.
But at CES there will also be a wearable device that allows women to measure when they are most likely to conceive a baby and automated systems to help cars avoid accidents. L’Oreal is exhibiting for the first time, presenting wearables for the health and wellbeing market.
As the internet of things reaches into more and more areas, brands also need to develop convenient control panels for consumers. Last August, for example, home appliances group Electrolux joined Haier, LG, Microsoft and Panasonic as a member of the AllSeen Alliance, working together on the open source AllJoyn software allowing different brands’ products to interact.
6. Mainstream wearables
The Apple Watch, going on sale early in 2015, guarantees a big year for smart watches. Though many have already come to market, an Apple launch remains a barometer for predicting the adoption of new technology – so have the extra few months allowed Apple to perfect its device, or let competitors get too big a headstart?
Partnerships between brands and wearables manufacturers will inevitably become more varied and accessible to consumers. Coca-Cola, for example, will extend its presence in wearables and the wider internet of things. According to David Butler, vice-president of innovation, this will cover virtually every touchpoint Coke has “right down to the ‘biomarker’ level that can measure how hydrated you are and the effects of that on your body”.
Come back in the new year for full coverage of the technology trends and products on show at CES, 6-9 January.