The Year Ahead for ... Technology

Jean-Paul Edwards
Jean-Paul Edwards

Jean-Paul Edwards thinks this is the year of Bigger Data, with huge technological advances and new kinds of services changing our lives.

The past decade has seen us become ever-more infatuated with ever-more attractive and powerful technologies. We have enjoyed a flirtatious relationship with them, moving from one shiny new device or game-changing service to another. We fondly remember when BlackBerry first allowed for e-mail on the move or when the iPod put a lifetime's music collection in our pockets. Google allowed us to easily find anything, YouTube to watch anything and Facebook to say anything, each of them changing our behaviours and expectations in diverse ways. Keeping up was a challenge but also great fun.

The macroeconomic environment has changed and so has our relationship with technology. This year will see us understand that we have a more committed relationship with technology both as consumers and as brands.

The devices and services that we know well will seek to become even more ingrained in our lives, ever-more useful and ever-less able to be discarded for the next cool thing. As we now manage many important aspects of our lives through technology, from entertainment to finance and, increasingly, reputation and health, "interoperability" becomes a major theme.

Major digital companies will compete across multiple sectors and attract consumers to commit to their way of doing things. Microsoft will launch Windows 8 across PC, tablet and smartphone, looking to emulate Apple's success in these spaces. There are rumours of a Facebook phone that will attempt to further entwine a social identity into our lives. Google+ will develop to enhance our search experience with data about our interests and relationships. It will be fascinating to witness how explicit search data and implicit social data will interact to create new kinds of services, from the personally curated TV guide to Amazon's developing plans for advertising to community-powered health services such as

The constituent parts of the ecosystem to support an "internet of things" are now in place. Wi-Fi is already in two-thirds of UK homes and half the adult population has a smartphone. This creates a large enough market opportunity for new devices such as Jawbone's UP, a wristband that measures health and fitness metrics and uploads to a mobile device. The Android@Home initiative provides a platform for home automation innovation: initially, we will see light bulbs you can dim from your phone, but many others will be released through the year. Understanding how our products and services can work with, and be empowered by, these technologies is an emerging challenge.

There will be a more trusting relationship with technology. We will outsource a significant degree of thinking to services such as Apple's Siri. Impulse purchases will be influenced by these services. Marketing initiatives that are tuned to the logic of these systems will be increasingly important. "SiriO" may become the new SEO.

Technology will continue to complement our relationship with TV. It is forecast that, for the first time, more than half the TVs sold in the UK in 2012 will be smart TVs, seamlessly delivering web content around, on top of and underneath our linear video experience. It is still too early to say exactly what viewers want; the connected TV is still waiting for its "iPod moment" - when we suddenly understand what we didn't know what we wanted. The smartest brands will actively experiment to discover what they can add to this newly complicated relationship.

There will be new kinds of fun in our technology relationship. The first of the eighth generation of game consoles, Nintendo's Wii U, is scheduled for release in 2012. The games sector is being revolutionised by connectivity: the handheld PlayStation Vita, due out in February, will have no capability for disc-based games - everything is delivered online. We will understand more how brands can be built literally through games and metaphorically through gamification. Connected toys will make for a more tangible experience and they are ready for the mainstream. We can expect many new fun applications of connected technology, such as Sphero or Sifteo cubes.

PC brands will seek to add a degree of sexiness to their proposition as they compete for our desires with post-PC tablets and smartphones. The ultrabook is a form factor we will see much of this year; the high-end sleek designer laptop is positioned very much as a status symbol rather than just a functional tool. Intel expects it to account for 40 per cent of laptop sales by the end of the year.

Cloud technologies are scaling up to provide a trusted, secure, always-on, ever-backed-up environment. This will cause some to fundamentally reappraise what their consumer proposition is. Banks will secure more than our money, backing up valued data and documents. As local ownership of content becomes access via the cloud, it allows for all kinds of new distribution models. Billions have already been invested and 2012 will show us which bets will pay off. It may be the growth of new currencies such as Facebook credits, which can be both earned and spent with brands, or the launch of new hardware that connects what we already have in new ways.

If 2011 was about Big Data, then 2012 will be about Bigger Data, much of it built on a service named after a toy elephant. The ability to collect, collate, analyse and action data will only grow with mass market connected devices, sensors and services. It will bring us huge opportunities to create tailored services, niche communications, communities of advocates and new competencies. The brands that can think creatively, and act responsibly, with that data will win out.

The Boston Consulting Group estimated last year that the internet accounted for 7.2 per cent of GDP and online accounts for almost 30 per cent of UK advertising investment, the highest proportion of any major economy. We should be proud that the UK has just about the most advanced e-commerce market in the world: we export £2.80 of e-commerce goods and services for every £1 imported.

We already have a tight bond with technology as consumers, businesses and an economy. Recognising this (for better and for worse) will allow us to build upon the advantages that we have already created. We will face many challenges and opportunities in 2012, during which we should think of the long term and avoid the temptation to mindlessly chase a constant stream of shiny new things.

Jean-Paul Edwards is the executive director, futures, at Manning Gottlieb OMD.

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