What makes a product or service really work?
For years, you could only text message someone who was on the same carrier. For years, there were MP3 players that required a whole bunch of hardware and multiple software solutions to make everything work. Currently, if you want to see the true Internet of Things in action (home automation, etc...) it takes many different kinds of hardwares, softwares and hacks to pull it all together. In short: if it's confusing, hard and challenging, you may get the early adopters (and hackers) to play along, but mass appeal can seem like eons away.
This is also the current situation for virtual and augmented reality.
Many people (wrongly) assume that all of this is akin to the VHS or Beta wars. Which big platform will win? It's not. Both video platforms were easy to buy, install, use and integrate with your daily life. Apple didn't need to invent to the MP3 player, but the iPod was (without question) easy to buy, install, use and integrate with your daily life. Once text messages became cross-carrier (in Canada), usage exploded. Look at most technologies. In the early days of home computers, they were bought in pieces - by multiple hardware vendors - and required (serious) technical skill to install and work. Now, take someone with no computer literacy and give them an iPad. It takes no time for them to be up and running. iPads don't even have instruction manuals. It's easy to think that mass technology adoption is strictly related to the price point. It's true that new technology always has a high price barrier that makes it restrictive to a lot of people. Still, we do know that price is not usually the thing that keeps people away (remember the long lines of people looking to buy a $900 iPhone?). Think about the luxury goods or culture-based fashion brands. People will pay a premium for brands. At the end of last year, Technology Review published the article, Behind the Numbers of Virtual Reality's Sluggish Debut:
"The numbers do not exactly tell the story of a hot new consumer technology debut. By the end of 2016, 800,000 PlayStation VR units were expected to have sold, according to the research firm Canalys, along with about 500,000 HTC Vive and 400,000 Oculus Rift headsets. By comparison, Apple sold 3.3 million iPhones during the six months they were available in 2007 (the phone's debut year), according to Gartner. Sales rose to 11.4 million in 2008."
Maybe it is too early. Maybe it is not too early.
When a technology (or a product or a service) hits that Gladwellian Tipping Point, it's not due to a price break. I would argue that if you are in the business of a new technology, product or service (or trying to reinvigorate one that has been sluggish in market), think about the true interoperability of it. Think about virtual reality, augmented reality and the Internet of Things. Regardless of price point, I would argue that if the technology had seamless interoperability (meaning that it works effortlessly on currently adopted platforms and applications) that the usage would sore. Of course, it's no surprise that the Internet of Things, AR and VR felt a little muted at this passed week's big CES show in Vegas. Of course, it's no surprise that the big winner was Amazon's Alexa. Voice is something that easily and obviously connects and integrates with the platforms that most people are currently using. Voice will win the day. With that, we should not dismiss VR, AR, the Internet of Things and other technologies just because they're not barn-burning hot out of the gate. Watch and see what Facebook does to integrate their VR platform (Oculus) within the current Facebook experience. Watch that space, precisely, to see how powerful the interoperability must be for a brand to really find momentum and lift. The closer Facebook gets their newsfeed to Oculus, the quicker we will see VR adoption.
There is a huge lesson for all brands here.
If your brand is new. If your brand is struggling. If your brand needs some new life injected into it, don't just look at a redesign or how to make it easier for a consumer to buy from you. Look to the lessons from technology. Look at this concept of interoperability, and asks yourself (and your teams) just how interoperable your brand is within your consumer's experience (or ecosystem). Think about how technology now spends millions (billions) on the business of APIs. You don't have to be a technologist to understand the world of APIs. An API (Application Program Interface) is a set of routines and tools for making software applications. An API tells software pieces how they should interact. Can your brand build a new kind of physical (product or service-based) based on the API concept, to make it easier for consumers to use your goods? Can your brand build a new kind of physical API to make it work better with the tools, services and experiences that your customers already have? Use the API as a metaphor. What more can we do to make our brand be fully-interoperable for our consumer's experience?
Modern brand imperative: Make your brand as interoperable as possible. Think about what an API for your business might look like.