by Adam Skikne
Age of Context is a new book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel that is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the future of technology, social media, digital and business. The book details how companies are using the convergence of five key forces (mobile, social media, data, sensors and location) to create a new wave of smarter products and services.
The book is literally fascinating and should get you excited about how technology is going to change our lives in the near future. Here are a few key trends that we can look forward to once we enter the Age of Context:
The Rise of Wearable Devices
Wearable devices such as Google Glass and the Nike Fuelband are one of the biggest trends within the tech industry at the moment. Scoble was one of the first people to receive a pair of Google Glass outside of Google and is incredibly bullish about the future of these types of devices.
While it is still early days for wearables, Scoble and Israel argue that these devices will only get smaller, cheaper and more powerful over time. In fact, the wearable market is expected to grow to an estimated $50 billion in the next 3-5 years.
While smartphones are currently our primary mobile device, it will soon be normal to carry around multiple mobile devices with numerous smart sensors. While we may scoff at the current iteration of a device like Google Glass, younger generations will embrace them and may not be able to live without them as contextual technology creeps into more areas of our daily lives.
Pin Point Marketing
The problem with marketing and advertising today is that is creates more noise than signal. In the near future, companies will be able to use contextual technology to create right-time experiences based on a consumer’s needs, what they are doing and what they are going to do next. Companies are already experimenting with contextual marketing through a combination of online monitoring, social CRM and geo-fencing.
Business will become “Uber-ised”. Products and services will come to you when you need them. When you don’t, they will disappear as your context changes.
Another interesting company worth mentioning is Shopperception. The company creates 3D sensors for shopping aisles that measure what consumers look at, what they touch and what they place in their trolleys. These sensors will give merchants unprecedented data and real-time analytics of what happens at the ‘point of touch’ in stores.
According to Scoble and Israel, the cars will be as much of a contextual device as a smartphone, only a lot bigger. The entire auto industry is focused on using sensors to improve safety and security of drivers.
Google, Tesla and Audi are just a few of the companies that are working on self-driving cars that help people save time and money, as well as dramatically reduce the number of accidents on roads. As Marc Andreessen says: “People are so bad at driving cars that computers don’t need to be that good to be much better.”
But there are a number of other interesting ideas in this field. Tesla has developed an alarm system that only unlocks the vehicle for recognised drivers. OnStar is a vehicle tracking company that disables the gas pedal of a vehicle once it has been reported stolen. GM is investigating a sensor that can detect if drivers are falling asleep at the wheel Another company is developing wristbands to monitor a driver’s alcohol levels in order to prevent them from driving drunk.
Health in the Age of Context
Health care is another industry that is set to be transformed by contextual technology. Health care encompasses two elements: prevention and treatment, and there are a number of examples of how technology is being used to treat and prevent illness.
Researchers are already testing pills containing smart sensors. Once consumed, a patient’s condition can be tracked and monitored. If a patient’s condition changes, both the patient and the doctor can be instantly notified. This might sound like science fiction, but these pills could come to market as early as 2015 or 2016.
There are a number of examples of how data, sensors and location are currently being used in medicine. One study crowd sourced the location of asthma attacks to identify asthma hotspots. Smart masks have been created help create heat maps that measure air quality. A bra has been created that is able to detect the early stages of breast cancer.
Scoble and Israel predict that, unlike in science fiction, humans won’t become part of computers but computers will become part of humans. The two authors have also met with company’s developing the next generation of smart prosthetics as well as bionic suits designed to help paraplegics to walk.
The Connected Human:
The pair also write about Personal Contextual Assistants (PCA’s) like Siri and Google Now. Scoble and Israel believe that these PCA’s will evolve into anticipatory systems for every aspect of our lives thanks to the Internet of Things. According to the authors, there will be 3.5 billion networked products by 2015.
The home will be just one of the spaces that will be transformed by contextual devices. Houses will soon be fitted with smart windows that can change properties based on weather conditions – thereby eliminating the need for blinds and saving energy costs by up to 25℅. Smart glass and smart mirrors will soon come with facial recognition so you’ll be able to check the weather and read your messages while you brush your teeth.
The Cost of Context
The Age of Context promises to improve our lives in a number of ways, but these benefits will come at the cost of personal privacy. The extent we allow contextual technology into our lives will depend on our own comfort levels. Trust will become an increasingly important factor in the relationship between companies and consumers as we tackle issues relating to who owns our data, who can access our data and how our data can be used.
But once we find that balance, there is no doubt that the Age of Context will be an exciting time.
Over the past few years, most smartphone manufacturers have been engaged in a specs war in an effort to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market. With each new launch, smartphones has become thinner, lighter and faster. But while smartphones have become more powerful, they haven’t necessarily become smarter.
Two weeks ago, Motorola officially unveiled the Moto X, the first new smartphone that the company has developed since being acquired by Google in 2011. And while some have criticised the Moto X for shipping with what they consider to be “mid range” specs, Motorola is betting their success on providing customers with a smarter user experience.
This smarter experience is powered by the Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System, an 8 core processor that has two cores dedicated to natural language and contextual computing. This allows the Moto X to always be listening for a specific phrase (in this case, the incredibly catchy “Ok Google Now”) that activates Touchless Control.
Through Touchless Control, the Moto X benefits from deep integration with Google Now – one of the smartest and most useful of Google’s services that will soon be baked into the Chrome browser and Google Glass. Without even touching the phone, Moto X owners will be able to make phone calls, send messages, ask questions, perform web searches, navigate and so much more.
Like most smartphones, the Moto X also features a number of contextual sensors. It will know when it’s in your pocket and when you might be able to see the screen so that it can show you subtle notifications. It knows when you are driving and will automatically alert you to incoming calls and read new messages – all through Touchless Control.
What makes the Moto X so special is that it is able to power these various sensors and processes in a highly efficient way. Motorola claims the Moto X offers 24 hours of battery life…which is pretty impressive if these claims are true.
Another aspect of the Moto X that Motorola has focused on is customisation. Consumers will be able to customise their Moto X by choosing from a wide range of colours for the back plates and accents of the phone. Later in the year, Motorola will even be offering a variety wooden options to choose from.
Many have seen this focus on customisation as a move to appeal to average consumers and not just spec-obsessed Android nerds. This is actually pretty ironic, as Touchless Control is probably geekier than anything you’ll find on other Android phones like the Samsung S4 and the HTC One.
While the Moto X is not a perfect phone, I’m incredibly excited to see how Motorola will progress with their future products. Personally, I’ll be shocked if the next Nexus smartphone isn’t a Motorola device that sports similar features to the Moto X.
Specs will always be important, but currently there is no shortage of great smartphones on the market. Manufacturers might use software to differentiate their products but this will be harder than it sounds. For example, the majority of the added software features on the Samsung Galaxy S4 clutter up the phone, while the software features on the Moto X are minimal and could be genuinely useful.
The smartest bet for manufacturers moving forward might just be focusing on building smarter smartphones.
At the end of 2012, Joshua Topolsky wrote an editorial for The Verge entitled Reasons to be excited. In the piece, Topolsky stated that while we’ve spent the past few years getting used to things like social networks, smartphones and tablets, 2013 will be the year where we will begin to understand the impact that these new technologies will have on our lives.
Make no mistake. If you are in digital, it is definitely the time to be excited. We’ve all heard the proverbial promises of what will be possible “one day”. Well “one day” is almost here and some of the things that you thought would only be possible in science fiction movies will be rolling out to consumers in the next three to five years. We are about to enter a smart new world.
Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are two men who are perfectly positioned to understand the importance of the shift currently taking place in the world of technology and business. The pair are currently writing a new book entitled The Age of Context which is set to be released later this year. The book, which recently received $100 000.00 in funding, will argue that we are moving from an age of conversation which has been characterised by the rise of social media to an age of context which will be shaped by five key trends:
- Smart sensors (your smartphone currently has around seven of these)
- Wearable devices (think Nike FuelBands and Google Glass)
- Big Data
- The exponential increase in the volume of social data
- The exponential increase in the volume of location data
The above five trends will lead to a proliferation of smart products and services that will be able to provide highly personalised experiences based on an individual’s data. This needs to happen because while the amount of information that we generate on a daily basis is growing exponentially, not all of it is useful to us.
Last year, IBM estimated that we create 2.5 quintillion (add seventeen zeros) new bytes of data each day. This includes all the tweets, status updates, blog posts, reviews, check-ins, photos and videos that are uploaded and shared on the internet each day. It should be noted that while the above stat might sound impressive, it’s also probably already outdated.
We have access to more data and more information than ever before. And while we’ve often been told that more data is always better, this is only true up to a point. The truth is, is that information is only valuable to us if it is relevant and relevancy is dependant on context. And no one knows this more than Google.
Google is probably the biggest company to embrace the concept of smart technology. On paper, Google knows more about you than any other company on the planet. But the only way it can create value for you (and advertisers) is to know who you are, who you know, where you are, what you’ve looked for in the past and what you are looking for now in order to provide you with information that is relevant. That’s why Google is currently working on a number of smart products including Google Now, Google Glass and a self-driving car.
Despite only running on 13% of Android devices, Google Now was named as Popular Science’s Invention of the Year for 2012. The product has been designed to predictively give you the right information at the right time and when it succeeds, it’s magical. The way it is able to do this is by making smart connections based on the information Google already knows about you.
For example, it can work out where you live based on where you wake up each morning. It can work out where you work based on where you commute to. And it will automatically recommend an alternative route to work by factoring in current traffic conditions from Google Maps. And according to an interview with CNN, Google CEO Larry Page envisions being able to even summon one of Google’s self-driving cars to come collect you when your phone notices that you are ready to leave work for the day.
In addition to this, Google is also working on Glass – a set of glasses with a heads up display that can connect to your smartphone that allows you to record video, take pictures, get directions, send messages, video chat, voice search and plenty more. Glass will probably be the first of a number of new devices that will create new opportunities where contextual information will be extremely valuable. Google is aiming to bring Glass to market in 2014 and have recently released a video where you can get a taste of how it will function in the real world.
But Google isn’t the only big company to embrace smart technology. The New York Times recently published an article about Disney introducing RFID bracelets as part of their MyMagic+ system to help build brand loyalty and increase sales at their theme parks.
Through these smart bracelets, Disney will be able to eliminate turnstiles from the entrances to Disney World and allow visitors to spend less time in lines for rides. Disney has also developed an app that can be used to load credit onto a particular smart bracelet which can then be used to pay for goods within the theme park. If you opt in, you can also share your personal information with Disney cast members who will be able to greet you by name or even wish you happy birthday.
With 30 million people visiting Disney World each year, the MyMagic+ system will help Disney build detailed profiles for each of their customers. Where did they enter the park? How far did they walk? Which rides did they ride? What did they buy? Which characters did they interact with? How often do they come back? What offer could get them to come back again?All of this data can be used to dramatically enhance their current CRM strategy.
This is just a taste of what’s to come. A decade ago, no one could have predicted the impact that Facebook, Twitter and other social networks would have on our daily lives. And looking ahead, there is no way we can predict the impact that smart technology will have on the next ten years. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have plenty of reasons to be excited.