Tag Archives: Wearables

AR GO! Augmented Realities and Retail

On 12th July 2016 the share price of a tech company leapt up by $7bn – 25% in a single day – on the back of a free-to-download mobile phone app which is now installed on more phones in the US than Twitter or Tinder. The same app has resulted in multiple accidents, robberies from players lured to secluded locations, and unintentionally steered an unsuspecting woman to a fresh corpse. For those of you who have not yet heard of Pokémon GO, you almost certainly will very soon. Using a smart phone with a built-in camera, players can look at an area to spot and interact with the eponymous Pokémon which are superimposed over the environment on the screen. These creatures can then be used for trading or battles with other players. App users can also visit real locations which have been tagged on the in-game map as places of interest for trading and virtual activities.

The app is reported to have been created as an April Fool’s joke by creators Niantic, previously owned by Google. Indeed, Niantic’s CEO, John Hanke and many of his team are veterans of Google Maps and Google Earth. Much of the magic which allows for GO’s functionality is based both on this experience and a vault of user data collected from Niantic’s last game, Ingress, where players marked interesting places for use in the game. Niantic have also used geographical environmental data such as bodies of water to determine which Pokémon creatures should appear in that area. Hanke has more recently suggested that augmented reality (AR) headsets could also be used with the game, and wearable devices which vibrate when a player is near a Pokémon are already being marketed.

Context Pokemon

Pokémon in my office

Nintendo, who last year invested $30m in Niantic and now enjoying the equity fruits mentioned above, are generating revenue through in-app purchases – a common feature for free-to-play apps – but also in new ways which have great significance for high-street retailers. With their previous title, Ingress, businesses could pay for places of interest to be located inside their retail stores, drawing in players with promises of in-game goodies. The beauty of this system is that players do not have to give permission to be shown advertisements, and are inadvertently and willingly pulled into a retail space. Several US retailers are already looking into virtual awards for players who enter their location tied to a geomarketing deals with Niantic.

Hype aside, the mapping and tagging functions are by no means perfect and have already caused controversy. Criminals in the US have been using the app to target unsuspecting players heading to game locations, and Baltimore prison was recently discovered to be an in-game gym. As the Pokémon catchphrase goes: Gotta catch ‘em all!

AR combined with GPS and digital mapping is already being exploited in other sectors such as healthcare. Sweden’s Brighter have created a virtual bicycle experience, jDome, which allows dementia sufferers to pedal through their early neighbourhoods and has recently been adopted by care homes all across Scandinavia. The potential of these technologies for a gamut of industries was espoused at CONTEXT’s VR Summit last week by a number of leading experts including the University of Reading’s Dr Matthew Nicholls who over the last seven years has constructed a virtual model of ancient Rome: “VR allows people without a £250,000 research budget to pick it up and use it. Visitors to the department find it extremely compelling and it’s a great way of bringing an ancient space back to life”.

For Nintendo, the blurring of physical and virtual reality for gaming is nothing new; following the success of the Wii, and by combining this with their highly profitable franchises and the ubiquity of smart phone devices they have created a Pokémonster (sorry for the pun, but share prices speak for themselves), and one which could play into the hands of the brick-and-mortar retailers wanting feet through the door.

by JW

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A Glimpse at Emerging Technologies in 2016

The brand landscape of 3D Printing will continue to change in 2016
In 2016 the influence of major IT brands will be seen in the high end of the 3D printing market even if these companies are not yet shipping products. While most revenues in the 3D printing space come from the industrial and professional high end of the market where brands such as HP, Canon, Ricoh, Toshiba Machines and others will enter, the landscape of the nascent desktop/personal 3D printer space is set to change as well. No major IT company has announced any great plans to enter this side of the market in the near future, but at CES 2016 we did see the likes of the licensing company Polaroid toss its name into the ring and others are expected to follow.

The desktop/personal 3D printer market is still regionally fragmented and start-ups can quickly gain share by way of crowd sourced efforts. A global market leader has yet to emerge but XYZprinting currently carries that banner, having taken it away from the previous poster-child MakerBot (now owned by Stratasys). In the near future, it seems, both sides of the 3D printing industry are set for brand shake-ups.

The Internet of Things – we need some education about benefits
For the last few years, people have been predicting that the following year will herald the big take-off of the Internet of Things (IoT), particularly in the home environment. However, 2016 will be a year of steady progress, rather than ‘the year’ for IoT as many are forecasting.

What we’ll see is more jostling between vendors as tech firms try to firm up their foothold in the developing market. They will do this primarily with single-use devices – smart lights, IP cameras, sound systems and thermostats. No one ecosystem will emerge as dominant yet, although Samsung SmartThings, Google Nest, Apple Homekit, AllSeen Alliance, Amazon Echo and others will all try in 2016.

Ultimately, until product standards improve, prices fall, and there is a greater level of education about the benefits of the IoT, it won’t hit the mainstream. Our recent smart home survey supports this: a whopping 63% of Europeans do not yet understand the smart home concept, while over a third (37%) fail to see the benefits of smart home products.

..and steady progress in wearables
Even if there truly were such a thing as the year of anything, 2016 would not be it for wearables. There will be no killer app, no single added software functionality that will redeem its hardware host. Apple Pay? Come on! People are simply not that inconvenienced by classic card usage – especially now most of us have contactless cards. And this reflects a larger problem for tech companies trying to carve out a space in the emerging consumer IoT: there simply aren’t that many problems left to be solved.

Of course companies will continue to successfully build solutions for the myriad minor ‘challenges’ we face day to day, like wielding out wallets or getting up to turn the lights off, but no single solution will lead to anything like the stratospheric rise of the smartphone. Rather, we can expect to see a more gradual uptake over the next few years as wearables increasingly integrate with the rest of the consumer IOT and find ever more small ‘wins’ for their owners, eventually building up to a compelling purchase proposition.

Virtual reality – substance over hype
2016 is going to be the year that retail VR products start rolling into the market but they won’t snowball. At CES, Oculus announced the launch date and price for the first retail version of their headset and accessories at £500 which looks quite high. For those of us who have been waiting almost their entire life for truly immersive gaming – ever since the rise and fall of the risible Virtual Boy – the next three months should be enough time to save up. However the vast majority of consumers, who have not yet been able to experience sitting in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and reaching out to stroke Chewie’s mane, will see the technology as a luxurious curiosity.

Oculus and other manufacturers are looking to the product life cycles of other emergent technologies which often started off expensive before coming down in price as they became more mainstream. Oculus CEO Palmer Luckey recently spoke out in defence of their pricing, stating that they didn’t want to compromise on quality in the first-generation of headsets. It looks like the lessons of Virtual Boy have been learned: substance is more important than hype.

by AS, TG, JW & CC

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Filed under 3D Printing, Connectivity, IoT, Smart Home, Wearables

First impressions from CES

The buzz on arrival at CES Unveiled, a pre-CES event aimed at journalists and analysts, was the new OLED Lenovo laptop, a first in the PC and displays industry. The screen resolution was so beautiful that I fear that people will spend their time looking at it rather than working. That was almost the only old tech company out of the 180 exhibitors.

The prize in the smart home and wearables arena goes to French Tech – maybe they negotiated a good block deal with CES or else there is something to be watched for in the buzz of activity in what the French call “The Hexagon”. Here they are:

  • Withings, an established player, has launched a new temporal smart thermometer with 16 sensors.
  • Mother, which caught the imagination in CES 2014 with its array of sensors for tracking activity in the home, has come of age with Silver Mother, essentially the same hardware, but with clever marketing targeting the care of elderly relatives.
  • A new start-up called Hydrao has launched a smart showerhead and related app which allows you to track your usage of water in the shower – the colour on the showerhead changes at preset levels and an app gives you warning – teenagers beware!
  • Ubiant, a start-up, has won a prize for its energy saving product “Luminion”
  • Bee-Wi, with its Bluetooth range of products has launched a watering system which was sprinkling inquisitive people pressing the right buttons on the stand; and also a smart oil diffuser which smelt pleasant and contrasted nicely with the foodie smells of the free buffet being served opposite
  • SevenHugs, named touchingly after the embrace the founders of the company give to their 7 children every night – the family is alive and well in France – have launched the first contextual remote control, designed to make objects in the home easily controllable from one device
  • But the prize for innovation goes to Qarnot, a start-up, which has invented a computer serving as a heater, in an ecologically friendly way of using the heat which would have been generated and lost in a data centre. Its clients know that instead of having banks of computers in a data centre, they are sitting in people’s houses. The device can also be used to charge your smartphone and can be used as a hub for smart home products

There is a UK tech as well. A company called Smarter has developed a nice range of products, some already well-established in UK retail, that make your fridge smart, detect noises in the kitchen (eg the washing machine has come to the end of a cycle) and weigh products in the fridge to let you know if you have run out – all at an attractive price point of under £100.

I end day 1 with Lowe’s, the only retailer to be present at CES Unveiled. Lowe’s has led the way in the US in smart home with its Iris range, and announced today that it is moving into professional monitoring. With a partner it will operate a service of emergency response to alarms for fire, carbon monoxide, and intrusion in return for a monthly fee. This is the way that Dixons Carphone in the UK has said that they are going, and the latest CONTEXT Smart Home Survey (to be published on Thursday 7th January at our Retail CEO breakfast in CES) shows that there is an appetite in Europe for similar services.

by AS


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Filed under Big data, Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Introducing the Smart Home Cyber Security Manifesto

Last week CONTEXT hosted the retail segment of the Smart Homes & Building Association (SH&BA) ‘Smart Home Breakthrough’ summit. The event brought together leading technology providers, retailers, academics and industry bodies to discuss privacy and security in the smart home. It was a groundbreaking day with an exchange of varying perspectives from retailers, consumer associations, industry, Government and academics about how we approach the increasingly connected home, the data that it generates, and what this all means for the end-consumer.

Cyber security in the smart home is an increasingly important topic that will underpin the smart home breakthrough. CONTEXT recently participated in Sky News’ technology show Swipe to discuss this, and the key message is that consumers need to acquire both the confidence in the technology, and learn about their responsibilities for protecting their data and their privacy. This is brought into sharp relief because of continued company data breaches.

So in preparation for the summit, we developed an industry manifesto aimed at manufacturers and services providers. The manifesto formalises much of the current discourse on smart home security, providing a range of principles to be taken into consideration during the development of smart home devices, appliances and services.

Many leading industry voices contributed invaluable insight including Dixons Carphone, Euronics, the Which Association, the SH&BA, Intel, D-Link, Deutsche Telekom, and Nottingham Universities. The recommendations for building consumer trust in the smart home sit across three categories; data security, data policy and consumer support.

The Smart Home Cyber Security Manifesto

Data Security

  1. The smart home must be secure by design – Security cannot be added as an afterthought. Products and services must be secure across design, development, promotion and maintenance stages, and throughout the entire supply chain.
  2. The smart home must be able to authenticate all users – From knowing your heating preferences, to recommending which movie to watch, it is vital that everyone connected to the home network can be accounted for.
  3. All data that flows through the smart home must be encrypted – This is especially true of the personal and financial data of users.
  4. More must be done to deliver end-to-end security – As most smart home devices and services will connect through the cloud and other data centres, each step must be secure and not endanger the end-user.

Data Policy

  1. Companies must adopt transparent data policies – It must be made explicitly clear what personal data is collected and what that data is then used for. Consumers must be told if any company sells their data to marketers or any other third-party.
  2. All smart homes must offer the same level of privacy as homes do now. That means when the doors are closed, and the curtains pulled down, no company or person should expect to be able to access any activity of the home owner.

Consumer Support

  1. All smart home devices and services must be accessible and understandable for all users, regardless of technical prowess – The end-user should never be blamed for a security vulnerability that arises in the installation or the running of a product or service.
  2. All devices and services must launch with long-term support – This means regular security updates and on-going support must be made available to ensure consumer peace of mind.

If the smart home industry acts on these recommendations, we believe that consumer trust will grow and adoption of the smart home will accelerate.

We are very interested in hearing your thoughts on this manifesto, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.

by AS


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The future of the Smart Home is wearable

Smart watches are getting smarter. A second-generation swathe on display at IFA last month gracefully made the point. Swankily strapped, slimmed down and circular, they are starting to look less and less like their geeky forebears, and more like something I might wear one day. This of course is aided by slowly but surely lengthening battery lives and an increasingly diversified set of offerings and prices.

However, aesthetics, price and endurance – no matter how improved – will mean little to me and millions of other consumers until the IoT potential of smart watches is truly unlocked.

Devices and technologies exhibited at IFA didn’t disappoint on this front either. Walking into the LG Smart Home demonstration, our hostess brought her futuristic abode to life by informing her LG Watch Urbane that she was “coming home” which put on the lights, air con and speakers. “Going out” brought the house to a standstill again. Meanwhile, Withings demonstrated the integration of its Home IP Camera with the Apple Watch that allows you to track your household activities from your wrist.

Both of these use-case scenarios hint at the broader potential of smart watches – as the ideal nexus between the smart home and the smart person.

Although the smartphone has been touted as the hub of choice in an increasingly connected world, a case can be made for the smart watch as an ideal mediator in its own right; always body-borne, voice-command ready and motion-detection capable, the smart watch is potentially a much more intuitive and natural way to interact with the smart home.

No surprise then that in our Smart Home Survey, smart watch owners were the most likely to buy a smart home product in the near future – not just a reflection of their early adopter status, but also of the growing recognition that their existing purchases have more value integrated into their own Internet of Things (IoT).

Indeed, in the world of IoT, each individual object’s utility is a function of the network effects between dozens of other interacting things. Smart-home appliances will have more value thanks to the context provided by smart watches – and vice versa. Such a convergence will enable an ever-smarter smart home that pre-empts the needs of its occupants rather than passively responding to their commands.

This theme was highlighted in our very own CONTEXT Retail CEO Breakfast at IFA, where David Bailey, VP of Global Retail Development at SmartThings, argued that it is key to communicate not just what consumers can “do with” the new technology but, more importantly, what the technology can “do for” them.

by TG



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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology, Wearables

Apple Watch – flop or not?

When Apple announced the Watch, commentators were quick to claim that it would help bring wearables out from geek obscurity and into the light of the mass-market. Just like Apple had reinvented smartphones, mp3 players and tablets, so too would the smart watch be re=imagined for the likes of you, your grandmother, and me.

Several months on however, the vacuum generated by Apple’s reticence to release actual sales figures has opened up a speculative space: is it (and by extension the Smart Watches category as a whole) a flop or not?

A flurry of sensationalist articles pointing to a supposed 90% plunge in US Apple Watch sales certainly steer one towards the flop end of the spectrum. Slice Intelligence, the source of these figures, accompanied these claims with some dramatic looking figures.

The question is, how many early adopters can there be? Those keen enough to buy into the first-gen Watch iteration would likely have rushed to adorn their wrists as soon as it came on the market, leaving only a few keen stragglers, and a greater mass of as of yet unconvinced customers, many of whom are waiting for a second generation no doubt.

What’s more, any ‘disappointing’ sales figures still effectively trounce the Smart Watch competition, capturing the lion’s share of the market in the space of just a few months. Reading between the lines of Apple’s recently published quarterly results, it appears that the Watch is already a billion-dollar business.

Clearly, any flop related commentary is not quite justified. Neither is it possible to speak of an inevitable success however. A whole suite of first-gen issues need to be ironed out before the Watch is quite ready for breakout success. Too much currently rests on marketing nous and brand loyalty, leaving many (including the Watch owners I have spoken to) unconvinced as to its actual use value.

So neither flop nor outright triumph, but most definitely a propitious start, most definitely a space to watch.

by TG

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Filed under IoT, Mobile technology, Smart Technology, Wearables

Like Apples and Androids 

Did you hear? The internet was abuzz earlier this month with suggestions that Google might be making its Android Wear OS – on which most Smart Watches are currently run – compatible with Apple’s iOS.

For lack of any further leaks, the web has fallen silent on the topic, pundits awaiting an update at Google’s upcoming I/O developer conference no doubt. Not that a Google confirmation would guarantee anything, Apple still have the right, and perhaps the will, to stop them in their tracks.

Why? Well, for one, allowing Android Wear powered Smart Watches into its world could very well steal the thunder from its recently released offering. Oh, and there is clause 3.1 in Apple’s App Developer guidelines: “Apps or metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected”… hmmm, Android Wear…

So we will have to wait and see about that. But here’s why I’m hoping Apple will say YES. Firstly, it would be an unambiguous show of confidence in the merits of their own product: able to fend for itself without the need for a protectionist walled garden. Secondly, the added competition would incentivise Apple to stay ahead of the game, and release that all-important much improved second-gen Apple Watch I’m holding out for…

Finally, and most importantly, it would be consistent with the contemporary zeitgeist. At a time when we are starting to talk of a truly interconnected world – meshing together inanimate objects on individual, domestic, and city wide scales – incompatibilities between competing hardware/software solutions are starting to appear ever more anachronistic: the Internet-of-Apple-Things is not quite the same as the IoT.

Of course, there is no telling for certain that Google will make their play in any case, and as we have seen, there are very good reasons why Apple might turn them down even if they do so. But one can always hope. After all, times they are a changing. Indeed, who would have thought way back when that Microsoft would one day come to flaunt how nicely its hardware plays with Apple software? So who will win at wearables?

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