Google Pixel: The iPhone Killer?

This week’s news is all about Google’s Pixel: the new phone from Google – and from what i’ve seen so far they have pretty much nailed it! After a few disappointing weeks of tech news – Snap Inc. and Apple, I’m looking at you – we finally seem to be seeing some real innovation and progress in the mobile sector. So, what’s on offer?

AI Is King

Google Assistant is the Pixel phone’s USP, and they have placed it at the heart of the user experience. In a highly competitive market, where Apple and Samsung dominate (but neither have been able to crack the integrated and intelligent personal assistant), AI is the new battleground.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the competitive advantage of AI incorporation, and how this technology will eventually be used to interlink many products from a single company. It now looks like Google is positioning itself to do exactly that, with Pixel Phone and Home Speaker working in unison to bring the Google Assistant to life.

Competitive Advantages

Google Assistant can hold a conversation, in which one question or command builds on the last, rather than dealing with each request in isolation – a point which has caused the most devoted Siri fans much frustration over the years (and leading to situations like this).

It also draws on Google’s Knowledge Graph database, which links together information on more than 70 billion subjects, and has been in use for four years, giving immediate access to a massive amount of useful information.

Google have also addressed one of the biggest achilles heals with the Pixel Phone: it will come with the latest, previously unreleased Android version as standard, and will automatically update to the latest OS. This is one very clear benefit of controlling the vertical

One-Up on Apple

Some of the Pixel’s features have been included in a clear attempt to overtake Apple’s progress and fill in where the iPhone fell short. Almost all the high-profile fails reported with the iPhone 7 have been addressed in the latest Google Announcement, with the launch marketing having a bit of fun at Apple’s expense.

  • Google will also provide a ‘Quick Switch Adapter’ to import iMessage data, photos, videos, contacts and other data directly from Apple’s iPhone, in a move which clearly targets disenfranchised Apple users.
  • Every photo or video the user takes with the phone’s highly-rated cameras are automatically saved in Google’s cloud for free, at full resolution – for life – a clear UX win for Google.
  • The Pixel incorporates premium product design & iPhone-matched price points, which are simply a necessity for any product hoping to compete at the top end of the mobile device market.
  • Finally, the Pixel includes both a flush camera lens and a standard headphone jack – which may not be top of the list for every early adopter, but I know for a fact that it certainly is a sore point for some devoted Apple fans!

 

The Google Hangover

Last week, I discussed some of Google’s rougher experiences – delving into the downward spiral that was Google Glass. The truth is that some of these issues will still be in the back of user’s minds. Google know this and have hired some serious big-hitters to drive this new hardware train. However there is work to do to help consumers overcome privacy concerns surrounding the incorporated use of AI technology and the automatic use of cloud storage.

Well Played, Google!

In my view, a lack of effective competition in the linked hardware & software consumer electronics market has allowed Apple to get lazy & complacent. The below-par iPhone 7 announcement was a spectacular display of a missed opportunity and this has played nicely into Google’s hands.

Google’s range of new hardware is the first real attempt to challenge the status quo, and by putting AI (Google Assistant) at the heart of their products, they are betting big that this is the new consumer electronics battle ground. And, while the launch of Google Home is clearly aimed at taking down Amazon (with their Alexa Home AI) as well as Apple, announcing  both a home hub and a mobile product is a very strong move to dominate the consumer user experience

They arrived fashionably late to the mobile hardware party, but by taking their time, they have been able to find solutions to almost every problem currently facing mobile device users – well played, Google! I’m ditching my iPhone and definitely buying a Pixel when they launch on 20th October. What about you?

Apple And The Innovation Paradox

I noticed that the recent batch of updates and launches from Apple have been met with more muted applause in the media than in previous years. I admit I was also initially underwhelmed by what they announced. Among the shiny new hardware (that looks almost exactly the same as the shiny old hardware) the updates seemed pretty trivial. Removal of the headphone jack; improved AI (Siri) capability; more emoji’s ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; faster processor speeds; better cameras; waterproofing  and GPS-ing the Apple Watch (why didn’t they do this when they launched it?). They don’t really set the heart racing, until you take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Headphone Jack-gate

The biggest controversy was the removal of headphone jack – paving the way for wireless earbuds, the (instal-lose) Airpods. This is a long overdue move – there are now many other branded wireless headphones on the market and Apple have a history of getting in when the time is right and they can own it . Nilay Patel, for The Verge, says;

“Removing the headphone jack is an act of pure confidence from Apple, which is the only company in tech that can set off a sea changes in the industry by aggressively dropping various technologies from its products” 

But as they are also accelerating the rollout of Apple Pay, this move is also a big block to the current batch of plug-in contactless payment devices, from the likes of iZettle; Square, etc. A shrewd strategic move as this immediately grabs market share and provides an additional layer of protection for Apple Pay.

Siri-ously

Siri, the iPhone’s AI and personal assistant can now communicate with other apps. You can now ask her to book you an Uber, WhatsApp your missus and find a decent restaurant for your date night. I called this back in the summer in a post about the how brands were ramping up their AI development and the opportunity for consumers. This just Apple setting out their stall and ensuring app developers and brands develop into their ecosystem. Strategically, another strong move.

iMessage update & Emoji-plus

Whilst this may seem underwhelming, to say the least, there are logical reasons behind competing against standalone messaging apps and keep iMessage relevant. They are consolidating their use of their message tool, developing new features to appeal to the Snapchat generation.

But where was the innovation?

Lets flip this around: why do they need to? They own the premium handset market globally with a devices that arguably have the best hardware and software design. If it ain’t broke…

They’ve upgraded the processors in the iPhone 7 and added market-beating camera technology. They’ve done enough to keep themselves on top. Innovation isn’t need when the product is right – why take a big risk now when they don’t need to. Is this necessarily a good thing for the consumer, though? Marketing guru Seth Godin says

“The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way.”

I think this is partly true with the iPhone, they don’t yet need to find a new path. However a company the size of Apple has the resources to research and develop big, innovative leaps in tech. We need to see more of this. There have been discussions for some time around Apple’s entry into new product markets. Cars and TV’s have been rumoured to be getting the Apple treatment (though they’re clearly having a re-think about the former if they’re laying off a bunch of the Project Titan team). I’d like to see them betting a bit bigger on some of these, and other, tech projects. The risk of not doing this is that they are more likely to miss out on the next big feature that’ll take their business to the next level.

My verdict – Apple have done just enough for now to keep their smartphone hardware and software at the top of the market, and delivered some strategically important updates to protect their proprietary features. This time next year I hope to be talking about how the iPhone 8 also doubles as a hoverboard.

151020-hover

Why You Should Ignore Your Competitors

In the WWDC announcements earlier this week, Apple revealed that their voice recognition AI, Siri, will be made available on desktop. But the bigger news is that Siri is to be opened up to third-party developers to enable users to access third-party apps through Siri commands. This news has been met with varying opinions, but the loudest appears to be that Apple are falling behind when it comes to beating competitors to the punch. However, I am not so sure that this is true.

 

Too little, too late?

The popular opinion seems to be that Apple is having trouble keeping up with their competitors. Cortana was opened to third-party developers over two years ago, whilst Amazon’s assistant AI, Alexa, was released to developers almost a year ago – with the added incentive of a development fund for innovative uses of the software. Google appeared to be slightly late to the party, releasing their software only last month, so is Apple playing catch-up?

Amazon,  and Google already have stand-alone devices on the market, powered by their AI assistants, all released over the past two years, whilst Apple have only recently announced that they are developing their own stand-alone command centre for homes

The CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Washington university professor, Oren Etzioni, has said “Is it too little too late? Siri is five years old and still trying to learn how to play well with others.” (source)

 

My Take

Watching your competitors is one way of making sure that your products are relevant, but a much more effective method, is listening to your customers. If you are hearing your customer’s demands and working to make them happy, you don’t need to concern yourself with what your competitors are doing.

Apple have long proven that they are innovators, releasing amazing product, after amazing product, they refine their software and products based on the feedback they receive from their customers, which eliminates the need to copy what Amazon and Google are doing.

Although the announcement is still fairly new, Apple have been developing their stand-alone product since before Amazon Echo was released, taking the time to make sure that they are delivering a product that their customers actually want.

This is the best approach to handling competitors as it ensures that they are delivering products that their customers will want to buy. “A lot of our customers have told us they would love…” is a phrase that featured in many of their announcements, for example.

When developing my own services and brand, I made the conscious decision to stop watching my competitor’s every move to make sure that I was in line with them. I can see why people would ask how I could be sure that my business was relevant, if I didn’t know what my competitors were doing. To be honest, I didn’t know whether my products were on par with those of my biggest rivals, what I did know was that my products matched what my customers wanted and answered their needs.

By asking the right questions and using the information our customers provided, we were armed with all of the knowledge we needed about our market. Our customers didn’t want imitations of existing products – they were looking for innovation which answered their calls.

Whilst you are busy ignoring your competition and paving the way for satisfied customers yourself, there are a three key things to avoid:

  • Don’t give your competitors bad press, focus on your business, your innovation and keeping your customers satisfied and the rest will fall into place
  • Don’t assume that customers will fall into your lap; amazing products come with an amazing brand and maintaining world-class customer service will endear your customers to you even more.
  • Don’t price higher just because you can. Fair prices make everybody happy. Don’t be tempted to price too low, you still need to make a profit. On the other hand, do not fall into the mind-set that you can charge the earth just because you meet the customer’s needs better – many people will be tempted to accept lesser value for a more affordable product.

Remember that happy customers are the key ingredient in great business. Exceptional customer service, products which push all the right buttons, and prices which match your target market’s lifestyle will lead to better reviews and an increase in word-of-mouth marketing. Happy customers will lead to more customers. Increased trust in your brand leads to increased profits, and better quality of feedback, leads to better quality products, fuelling the cycle once again.

Bot technology set to revolutionise the way brands interact with their customers

Bot-Commerce: How Bots could change the E-Commerce landscape

Back in 2004, before YouTube existed, I was advocating the use of video content to improve the online customer journey. In 2009, I was telling brands that ‘Where to Buy‘ buttons would be a customer expectation. This happened. So are bots going to have the same ‘Must have‘ status in a few years? It’s starting to look likely.

You have probably come across bots before, even if you haven’t been aware of them. Bots are simply automated scripts that can perform simple, repetitive tasks at a much faster rate than would be humanly possible. The most well-known bots are the ones that spider the web indexing the millions of websites that are listed in Google and the other major search engines. For humans to analyse and file the information from all these websites would be incredibly labour-intensive but a bot can do this quickly and efficiently.

The recent surge of interest in bots has been triggered by the announcement at the Facebook F8 developer conference that tools will be made available for developers to create bots inside Facebook Messenger. The tools announced by Mark Zuckerberg include an API which developers can use to create chatbots for Messenger as well as chat widgets for the web.

Facebook is far from the first company to experiment with bots. Both Telegram and Kik already have bot stores, while Microsoft recently announced a bot platform of their own. The reason that the Facebook announcement has captured peoples imagination is down to the number of users Facebook Messenger has.

Facebook hope that Messenger can be developed as a primary channel for businesses to connect with their customers. They believe that combining AI with human intervention can allow Messenger to almost act as a direct replacement for 1-800 numbers. If bot technology is eventually this widely accepted by the public we could see bots in areas as diverse as customer support, commerce, and media.

At F8 Zuckerberg demonstrated a bot which allowed someone to order flowers using natural conversational language. He also unveiled a bot from CNN that delivered news stories that became more personalised over time. Zuckerberg sees an e-commerce future where brands have their own bots which interact with customers through the Facebook Messenger interface. Is he right?

Many retailers and brands are going to be sceptical. Back in 1996 e-commerce companies were struggling to design a high ranking website to accommodate changes in customer behaviour. In 2006 these same businesses found themselves under pressure to create apps that for smartphones. Now in 2016, the trend is to develop bot technology. Why should they bother? Many retailers went to the expense of creating mobile apps which garnered only a lacklustre response from their customers. I believe that there are solid reasons why traffic from apps has frequently been underwhelming, and why bots offer a better opportunity.

Many of the problems with apps can be traced to their being stand-alone items. Brands must first persuade customers to download them, and then expect the customer to learn an entirely new interface when they want to engage with them. Who wants to struggle with an unfamiliar interface just to register a new product or ask a simple question?

This is where bots really have the edge. Bots run on platforms which customers are already using. Individuals are already familiar with the interfaces for Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, so the learning curve is entirely eliminated and brands can interact with their customers immediately.

If bots are going to be successfully integrated into company marketing then I believe it is essential for brands and retailers to own their own bots. There is no value in creating task specific bots, ie. a bot for support, a bot for content etc. It will be more effective for brands to own their own bots on all platforms, not just Facebook, but every chat platform they operate on. Once businesses have a bot in place they will be able to establish access agreements with other partners to supply the information they need to allow the bot to operate. This might include, content syndication, PIM, offers, and deals.

How does AI play into this? In an ideal world, bots would have awesome intelligence and be able to successfully answer any questions the customer may have. However, in my opinion this possibility is still a while off and this disconnect between customer expectations and reality could lead to customers getting frustrated. Progress is however being made in the right direction. Here in Dubai, simple commands like ‘nearest ATM’ and ‘statement’ are already being used by some forward-thinking banks.

So what is the potential for brands and e-commerce retailers to work together with bots? It is possible that chatbots could become our new ‘best friends‘. Some brands have already begun to embrace bot technology. In the last year more than 80 advertisers worked with Kik to establish chatbots on its network of 275 million users.

This is just the tip of what could be a very large iceberg, the potential scenarios are almost limitless. Just think about these 5 options for a start.

  1. Bots making offers – The customer makes an inquiry about a service and the bot responds by providing the customer with a time sensitive offer. The whole process would be fully trackable, allowing the success of the offer to be analysed, and improved over time.
  2. Bots acting as a ‘knowledgeable friend’ – Online stores are useful but often customers want to know more information than can be conveniently displayed. A bot would be an ideal way for a customer to find out more about the product. They could talk about product specifications, the terms of the warranty etc.
  3. A bot to locate your nearest store – There are some products you want to see before you buy, and others which are just not suitable for delivery. A bot could be used to tell you where your nearest store is, and potentially offer you directions to the store.
  4. A bot to upsell products – When a customer makes a purchase there are often complementary items which customers may like to purchase alongside the product. Having a bot bring these items to the attention of the customer can help customers find products they need, and improve the bottom line of the business.
  5. A bot to follow up with customers –  The greater the understanding a business has of their customers habits and behaviour the more effective a bot can be. Imagine having a bot that was able to reach out to customers and ask: “How are you getting on looking for your new TV? Let me know if I can help”.

Bots are only just starting to make their presence felt. We have yet to see what the future holds, and how the development of AI will lead to a full bot-revolution.

Should we be scared of artificial intelligence?

Recent technology news coverage has been dominated by growing concerns over the development of artificial intelligence (AI). My interest was piqued by a particular Forbes article that frames this topic in terms of recent advancements and explores a variety of viewpoints from industry heavyweights. For your own reference, the article can be found here:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/theopriestley/2015/09/07/musk-and-hawking-are-wrong-we-should-fear-facebook-building-an-artificial-intelligence/

The author, Theo Priestley, hooked me and prompted me to read the full article – one in which he fundamentally disagrees with big technology players such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. Hang on, why would someone be disagreeing with two of the most forward-thinking and well-respected human beings on our planet?! If anyone is going to know something about this growing phenomenon, surely it would be either of those people? We should be paying attention, not calling them ‘wrong’! Right?

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp, says: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that.”’

Eminent physicist Stephen Hawking’s view is that “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

Sure, the unknown is a scary thing, and the movie industry has done much to perpetuate the widely accepted ‘future’ of Artificial Intelligence – we’ve all seen the movies. There is a formulaic and uniform outcome – the Artificially Intelligent being turns on its creator, struggles for power, and is ultimately a force of destruction.

Theo describes how, in the real world, artificial intelligence handles queries, helps users and solves problems. This is possible through ‘understanding human behaviour, rather than the traditional method of building artificial intelligence by mimicking how the brain works through algorithms.’

Artificial intelligence products already on the market include Siri, Cortana and Google (OK Google). The newest AI to launch is ‘M’, the Facebook virtual assistant.

‘M’ would work in the same way as the main character Eva in the movie ‘Ex Machina’. (sidenote: highly recommended viewing!)

The data gets pulled; this will include personal information; names, nicknames, ages, etc. An important point Theo raises is that Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, meaning its data pull is far wider than any other network. It has access to phone numbers, photos, filter preferences, bio words and much, much more that the average user may not have considered before. This should make dealing with human queries an easy task, as they already have access to most of a user’s information and can give them tailored results specific to that individual.

Part of the training and development of ‘M’ relies heavily on human ‘assistants’; monitoring and tracking their own endeavours to solve problems – which websites are they visiting to glean the best information, which keywords are typed, etc. This will lead to further precise alterations to align ‘M’ more closely with human behavior patterns.

You may think this will lead to a brand new type of breach into personal data or even personal freedom. However, companies such as Facebook have already been manipulating users’ news feeds as part of psychology experiments. According to them, this measures how emotions spread across social media. Personally I feel that Facebook may have done this to understand human behaviour in a deeper context. Our once tacit and private thoughts, reactions and emotions are now on the open market to be measured, monitored and then ultimately mimicked.

With that in mind, I share some of Theo Priestley’s concerns and feel we should be proceeding with caution and prudence when allowing certain companies to create AI and be carefully examining their motives and end goals.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think we should fear Artificial Intelligence? Or is the development of AI safe if the right organisations are at the forefront?

Leave a comment below, even if it just about how much you love/hate Ex Machina!!