Spring in Silicon Valley: the smell of sunscreen in the breeze, muted greens blossom into vibrant, lush lawns and two of the biggest tech giants’ chief executives stand on stages trying to crack jokes.
Sundar Pichai at Google concentrated his comedic efforts on the Barcelona/Liverpool game, while Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook rather more nervously touched on the company’s PR struggle in the privacy department.
Aside from trying for a chuckle from the thousands-strong crowds of developers who gather every year at Facebook’s F8 and Google’s I/O conferences, the CEOs have something else in common. Amid the jam-packed agenda of nerdy coding news delivered to the guys and girls developing some awesome (and, let’s face it, not-so-awesome) experiences for their platforms, their presentations are where consumer-facing announcements are made. And although a heavy portion of these may seem irrelevant to brands (cheaper mid-range Pixel phones are coming), there were four pieces of news worth sitting up for.
Here’s what you need to know.
AR in search
Starting later this year, Google search results will give users the ability to view objects in 3D and place them into the real world using their phone’s camera. Great for education (Google’s example was a great white shark) – and shopping: imagine visualising that new shirt next to the rest of your wardrobe or taking a 360-degree look at the running shoes you want. Reports suggest brands can add 3D support with a mere few lines of code and Google that announced it is already working with New Balance, Target and Volvo.
It has excellent potential for clothing, home improvement and decor, automotive and personal care products, but should be approached with caution by luxury brands or those selling items that need super-high resolution to be shown at their best (eg jewellery).
More commerce for Instagram
Following the creation of the "shop" tab in its "discovery" section, Instagram is continuing to develop its commerce offering. Instagram Checkout is getting rid of clunky web-view checkouts that often lose customers at the last hurdle because, frankly, they are rubbish mobile experiences for the most part.
And now shopping tags – another piece to the Insta-commerce puzzle – will allow "creators" (people as opposed to brands) to tag products in their posts and make them shoppable directly within Instagram. Shopping tags will make finding, falling in love with and buying products on the platform even easier. At the moment, they are limited to a select range of influencers in the US, but they’ll eventually roll out globally.
Considering that 74% of Brits say they use Instagram to research products they’re considering buying and 47% say they make a purchase right there or minutes after seeing the brand on Instagram, its effort to smooth the journey to purchase hits the mark.
But should brands hasten to move their entire purchase funnel to a platform that already has so much leverage over them as a customer channel? There’s cause to think twice before abandoning other ecommerce and s-commerce routes.
Google Lens gets powerful
Lens is the built-in augmented-reality function inside Pixel (and some other) phone cameras and it’s getting a serious upgrade that spells exciting news for those in the food and beverage and fast-food categories. Now, if users point their phones at a restaurant menu, the most popular dishes will pop off the page, with photos and reviews from Google Maps lending folks a helping hand in choosing between the carbonara and the bolognese.
It heightens the importance of online communities even more as it builds a bridge between the digital and real world. Google Lens is also currently working with Bon Appétit to overlay tutorial videos on top of recipes – providing potentially enormous value to food-and-drink brands if such partnerships roll out to other publishers.
VR (might) go mainstream
Virtual reality has been a promise for years and has failed to convert past shopping centres and into folks’ living rooms. That’s because the hardware is clunky, has a thousand cables, requires separate headphones and is expensive. For all these reasons, Facebook’s announcement of a new VR headset may be the catalyst the industry needs to tip the technology properly into the mainstream.
The Oculus Quest is a completely wireless, fully integrated headset that costs $399, putting it alongside your average gaming console. If these fly off the shelves, there’s going to be a lot of households looking for amazing VR experiences to enjoy at home. And that’s an opportunity for brands.
But remember: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Does your brand have the right to "speak" VR? If it does, what experience could it build to delight and connect with its customers? It is the beginning, but it’s exciting. Fifty-three games and apps are launching with Oculus Quest and you can see the full list here.
If that wasn’t enough Valley swagger for you, there’s less than a month to wait until Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2019. In the meantime, the above should be more than enough food for thought, even if springtime in London looks a little less lush.
Gracie Page is innovation lead at VMLY&R London