Location Technologies Show A Path To Improved Customer Experiences

Location technologies used to be thought of as the domain of maps and navigation, but no more. Today, location is a critical enabler embedded in a growing number of app categories ranging from social networking to shopping to app discovery. Further, companies in retail, hospitality, transportation, healthcare, and other industries that have a strong emphasis on physical infrastructure are increasingly turning to location technologies as a means for improving their customer experiences. These companies are using location to: 

  • Personalize service. eBay Now is making product delivery more personal by delivering products to customer wherever they are -- not a street address, but literally where they are. So the next time you're camped out at Starbucks or the park and need something in about an hour, eBay  Now will bring it to you. In this case, eBay Now personalizes the experience by making the customer the destination, not an address.
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Experience Design Will Rule in the Post-PC Era

The last few days have been quite rough on PC-era titans Microsoft and HP. While my colleague Ted Schadler is correct in saying we're in a multi-device, "right tool for the job" era, the unfortunate truth for PC makers is that, for many consumers, the right tool for the job just so happens to be the mobile devices they carry with them, not the PC sitting in their bedroom or home office or wherever people keep them these days. In fact, 77% of mobile searches take place in the home or at work where a PC is readily available. Whether you call it lazy or convenient, the simple fact is smartphones and tablets are quickly becoming the go-to computing devices for consumers.

This shift in ownership and use behavior marks the dawn of a new age in customer experience. As I discuss in my new report, Customer Experience in the Post-PC Era, as customers shift their attention to mobile devices, their expectations are fundamentally changing. In the post-PC era, customers expect companies to provide experiences aligned with their needs and abilities, in the right context, and at their moment of need. To deliver on this, customer experiences need to become:

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APPLE + WIFISLAM = GAME ON FOR INDOOR LOCATION

Apple’s acquisition of WiFiSLAM made a few headlines earlier this week, but it’s been largely been ignored by the popular press. Just a small start-up acquisition, right? Wrong. Apple’s acquisition of WiFiSLAM is a game changer in two ways. First, it fills a critical gap in Apple’s location and mapping offering, better positioning it to take on Google and Nokia’s extensive indoor location offerings. And, as I wrote last fall, Apple’s focus on maps and location is part of a larger strategic battle taking place.

Second, the acquisition is poised to act as a catalyst – as Apple’s entry into emerging markets so often does – that will ignite a new wave of innovative apps and solutions based on indoor location. To get a better understanding of what indoor location brings to the table, one only has to look at what is taking place in the retail industry, one of the first major industries to embrace indoor location technology. Already, retailers are using indoor location technology to:

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Indoor Venues Are The Next Frontier For Location-Based Services

GPS-enabled smartphones have made location the cornerstone of the mobile experience. Location powers popular smartphone apps such as Foursquare, shopkick, and Yelp; overall, navigation and mapping apps are the third-most-used category of smartphone apps, ranking higher than gaming, news, and shopping. Yet, as important as location is, its dependence on satellite-based positioning systems prevents it from playing a significant role indoors -- where we spend up to 90% of our lives.

As I discuss in my new report, Next In Tech: Indoor Positioning, indoor positioning technologies are rapidly changing this situation by enabling users, venue owners, and app developers to determine a person's (or object's) position inside buildings. The impact of this change will be profound:

  • Make the physical world searchable down to the object level. By geotagging objects (through manual tagging or low cost tracking beacons), indoor positioning will make it possible to search for products and objects in the physical world as easily as we can on the Internet.
  • Provide a new platform for in-store shopper engagement and experiences. Indoor positioning will not only help shoppers with tasks such as locating products on shelves, calling for assistance, and accessing in-store services but will also enable retailers to engage shoppers in real time as they shop.
  • Digitize the call for help. Requesting help in venues will soon go digital, as indoor positioning will enable the help to come to you rather than you going to the help.
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Apple Maps Exposes A Larger Strategic Battle Taking Place

Now that Apple has apologized and the uproar over Mapplegate is starting to subside, it's time to step back and focus on why Apple had to do what it did. The fact is, Apple had to replace Google Maps for three reasons:

  1. iPhone map users are too valuable to leave to Google. According to ComScore, the iPhone users account for 45% of all mobile traffic on Google Maps, with the remaining 55% coming from Android. This means approximately 31 million iPhone users access Google Maps every month. iPhone users also use Google Maps more intensively than Android users. On average, iPhone users spend 75 minutes per month in Google Maps versus 56 minutes per month for Android users. And iPhone users access Google Maps more frequently than Android users, averaging 9.7 million visits daily versus 7.1 million visits for Android users. Given this data, Apple has a vital strategic interest in moving its iPhone users off Google Maps and onto an Apple mapping solution. Doing so not only deprives Google of its best users but also gives Apple the customer base they will need to drive adoption of new location-based services. 
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To Survive In The Post-PC World, Device Manufacturers Need To Get Tough

While Google and Microsoft downplay the significance of their Nexus 7 and Surface tablets, the message to their device manufacturers is abundantly clear: If you’re not building devices that surpass what we can do ourselves, you’re not adding value. Their intent in sending this message is to push device manufacturers to abandon their race-to-the-bottom strategy that emphasize low prices and incremental improvements over new product innovation. 

As I discuss in my new report, Humdrum Hardware: Why Google And Microsoft Are Goading Their Partners To Innovate, this strategy worked well in the Windows PC era, when there were no other viable ecosystems to draw consumers away and device manufacturers competed primarily on price, but they are no longer relevant in today’s post-PC world, where multiple ecosystems (Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft) compete against one another. To survive in the post-PC era, device manufacturers must get tough:

  • Pick sides in the platform wars. Device manufacturers need to concentrate their resources and commit to a single platform if they expect to develop compelling and innovative products that can compete against Apple.
  • Start playing hardball with Google and Microsoft. When Nokia went all-in on Microsoft, Nokia demanded special benefits, support, and concessions in exchange for platform-exclusive innovations. Other device manufacturers should replicate this model.
  • Push Google and Microsoft to adopt a co-opetition-based ecosystem model. In order to compete effectively against the vertically integrated ecosystems of Amazon and Apple, Google and Microsoft need to coordinate and optimize the innovation efforts of device manufacturers. 
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Apple Maintains The Status Quo With The iPhone 5, But For How Long?

Apple's new iPhone 5 is a case study in incremental improvement. Nearly every aspect of the product -- the CPU, display, cameras, radio modem, size, weight, etc. -- are all improved over the iPhone 4S and at the same $199 price point. No doubt, the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 will sell millions of units, preserve Apple's momentum, and hold off the competition, but significant threats are mounting that Apple cannot afford to ignore:

  • Nokia is delivering Apple-quality innovation. As Nokia demonstrated last week at its Lumia 920 event, Nokia's innovation engine is firing on all cylinders. When the Lumia 920 launches (rumored for November 2), it will outclass the iPhone 5 in key areas such as imaging (PureView imaging, Cinemagraph) and location (Maps, City Lens, Transit) as well as bring wireless charging and NFC into the mainstream. While the breadth of accessories will be nowhere near what the iPhone offers, Nokia gets strong marks for showing Apple how NFC can enhance the accessory experience. 
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