Products Are Going Digital -- What Leading Examples Are *You* Seeing Out There?

Here's a flash of the blindingly obvious: More and more products are going digital. You know this, but what I'm interested in is how they are going digital and to what degree. I see three major aspects: (1) the product itself becomes digital; (2) a physical product adds digital technology; and/or (3) processes and context around a physical product become digitally infused. Let me offer a sort of continuum of examples, and then I want to ask a question:

  • Music (nearly 100% digital). The greater part of music bought these days is in the form of a 100% digital product. 
  • Health band. With a health band (e.g., Fitbit, Nike FuelBand), I don't really care about the physical product, but I'll put up with it to get the digital benefit: lots of data (and more) about my workouts and health.
  • Cameras. A digital camera is a physical product that uses a combination of physical and digital technology, and I actually care about some of its physical design (e.g., lenses). It produces a 100% digital artifact (photos), and the process around the photos is digitally infused.
  • USB picture frame. Part physical, part digital. By replacing the center of a picture frame with a digital screen, I get a new twist on an old standby. But, working with the digital part still requires a high degree of physical manipulation (carry a USB drive to the frame, etc., etc.).
  • WiFi picture frame. Part physical, even more digital. The WiFi bit bumps it way above a USB picture frame in terms of seamless integration into a digital world. I can email a picture to the thing, or maybe tag a photo on Facebook and suddenly it shows up.
  • Clothing. For now, clothing is pretty close to 100% physical, but with the EON Interactive Mirror, the buying process might take on a significant, new digital component. Clothing itself could take on digital elements.
  • Cosmetics (nearly 100% physical). With cosmetics, EZface Virtual Mirror does a similar magic mirror type of thing. But my (admittedly uneducated) guess is that, for cosmetics, it will be a while before digital technology gets inserted into the product itself (although cosmetics containers and applicators might have some possibilities. . .).

The examples above center on consumer products, but they're just the top-of-mind ones I happened to think of. Other speculative examples might include cars negotiating with petrol stations on fuel price (an old Scott McNealy favorite), downloading apps to your digital thermostat, WiFi control of a high-end sound system, or maybe there's something crazy cool you could do by mashing power tools with the digital world. I'm hoping you get the idea.

So here's my question: What are some great examples, especially "push the envelope" examples, of innovative and surprising ways that products are going digital -- both in the product itself and in the buying and usage context around a product?

Please post a comment and let me know what you're thinking about or seeing out there that you think is really great. . .


Here are some more examples to prompt thought

I've been hunting around today, looking for more examples that fill out the space in some way (there are 1000s of examples, but the "digital picture keychain" doesn't add much to the landscape of thought I'm trying to fill in here). So, anyway, here are a few more I found or remembered along the way:

* Auto insurance adds GPS device to track your driving habits, let you earn better rates, and get email reminders at routine maintenance intervals (e.g., State Farm In-Drive).

* At sports events, you can text stadium security about unruly fans and other issues, digitally improving your experience (if security indeed acts on it).

* My mom has an electronic embroidery machine: Start with a photo, stylize it into stitches, download it to the machine, and voilĂ !

* USAA is credited as the first to enable bank deposits by check image -- first via desktop scanning, then via mobile photo -- digitally simplifying the process.

* has a "color entry point" into its online catalog -- pick a color, the site (tries to) show you items that match (sometimes it picks up the background color in the photo, rather than the item, but nice idea, anyway).

* Various online sites have some type of product configurator or visualizer that enhances the buying process.

I'm still hoping for a few interesting examples that bring out some different aspect of how and to what degree that products and experiences with them are going digital. . .how about any iPhone or Android apps that notably enhance a physical product -- or replace a physical product altogether?

More Digital Product Examples...

Games: Although it feels like digital gaming has been standardized, I am amazed by the concept of taking a turn then passing a phone to the next player for old standbys such as Scrabble (where the 'tiles' have wood grain and clink into place). Additionally, fill-in-the-blank, story generating word games leapt from paper to auto-generation. This hasn't stopped my juvenile (adult) crowd from popping a cork and taunting over a physical board, but this hand-held technology is towing the line until digital gaming tables are ready to impress households. Great technology restitution paid to families!

Movie Viewing: I use my phone to digitally stream a movie through a well-known provider app, to a projector, and watch projected movies outside. Camping is a whole new experience. If something happens to me while camping, the location of my phone is tracked through my email program and friends have permission to locate me (very accurately!).

The product experience goes digital

We live in an experience economy where product specs have become less important than the brand promise and the total product experience. At the same time, brands that sell high quality consumer goods, need to rely on an engaging online experience that helps drive consumer appetite and confidence prior to a purchase.

This means that digital product visualization (aka CG photography) is becoming key: it enables a consistent product experience across all touch points, it transcends static/2D visualization into interactive/2D experiences.

Secondly, the engagement that is needed to turn visitors into buyers needs to become digital and omnipresent. Inspirational copy, images & videos need to be complemented with highly interactive product explorers, product advisors & product configurators. In some cases (such as home related goods) this may even need an extra step: photo-realistic floor- and roomplanning tools.

It would be great if Forrester would cover some insights on the rise of 3D product visualization (refer to this: ) and the urgent need for digital product engagement solutions.

Nice example -- thanks

Important discussion, Martijn -- thanks. I'd extend the 3D product visualization to include 3D simulation. Suppose I include a refrigerator in IKEA's 3D visualization. Some refrigerators have digital functions like notifying you if the door is left open. Why not let me try that function out as part of my virtual exploration of the product, even entering my own mobile number and having the simulation actually text me?

The imagination can run from there with other products and categories of merchandise . . .

Thanks again for the comment!

Thanks for your reply. Would

Thanks for your reply. Would actually like to know if Forrester is already covering a trend in 3D / CGI product visualization. I know it has been out there for some time but all signs seem to be marking a green light for this to become key in the coming years.

In fact, as more consumers check out and buy products online, there is an obvious distance between online consumer and physical product. I think online consumers need a decent alternative for checking out products in-store. Especially when those products are of higher value (consumer electronics, home furniture, etc). I'd even dare to say its might enable the next boost in digital commerce.

Is there any resources on this topic within Forrester or anyone owning this area?

We don't go deep on your firm's category

Martijn - I asked around and, while your firm's type of 3D visualization is very much in the scope of what we talk about for digital experiences (e.g., I include 3D in the "interactive exploration" engagement type in my upcoming report on reference architecture for digital experience), I've not found an analyst that goes deep in covering your specific category and your competition.