Being cool is just not enough.
Anybody lucky enough to walk the show floors at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas will have seen thousands of new gadgets and gizmos. Depending on your viewpoint, the experience is either tech nirvana or a nightmare akin to being stuck in a crowded bazaar and being told to haggle.
Over the next few months consumers will get the chance to judge for themselves as to whether the inevitable hype that permeates out of CES every year is enough to splash significant cash on a must-have device. Alternatively, they may just wait until the noise surrounding the latest tech innovations becomes less high-pitched and almost tolerable.
One problem that brands face is that demand for new devices is reportedly slowing, with a lack of so-called “wow” factor playing a significant part in consumer apathy. A recently released report by Accenture Consulting said that a decade of growth is coming to an end, with next generation devices failing to capture the hearts and minds of jaded consumers.
The sheer volume of established tech devices on the market means that the general public is less likely to become early adopters of innovative products, many of which have been created with the Internet of Things in mind. The connected society that we live in has contributed to consumer fatigue with device owners happy to stick rather than twist.
You Can’t Sell “Magic” Gadgets Anymore
Steve Jobs famously introduced Apple’s new devices with flair, passion and gusto. He created his own reality distortion field wherein even the most meaningless of iterations was breathtakingly special.
The Internet of Things cannot grasp that same type of magic and anticipation.
Smartphones are a case in point. Global purchasing patterns have nearly plateaued as even emerging markets become saturated.
According to the 2016 Accenture Digital Consumer Survey, fully 80% of all global consumers own a smartphone but 48% intend to buy one in the next 12 months—a drop of 9% from 2014. The survey, conducted by Accenture Consulting, polled 28,000 people in 28 countries about their overall tech purchasing intentions in 2016 and the results paint a somewhat bleak picture.
Around 13% of people said that they planned to increase spending on smartphones, tablets or laptops in the next 12 months but most people said they were satisfied with their current device. Fully 47% of those interviewed by Accenture said they would not be replacing their smartphone, while 26% had bought a new smartphone recently. People who had laptops or tablets were in a similar position, the report said—around 49% of laptop owners were satisfied, compared to 36% of tablet owners.
Televisions—which have become indelibly linked with CES—fared slightly worse, the report said. Only 30% of people were planning on buying a TV in 2016, while 56% were perfectly happy with what they had. Consumers have been deluged in the last few years with a never-ending stream of bright and shiny TVs, most of which—yes, 3D TVs, we are looking at you—have failed to live up to expectations.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Accenture’s managing director of research John Curran said that most of the devices at CES were not always practical. In Curran’s opinion, manufacturers needed make consumers enthusiastic and replace glamour with usefulness.
“So much of what CES has been about is the cool. It’s about the glitz and the gadgets,” said Curran, The Washington Post reported. “But over the last couple of years, and in this one in particular, we’re starting to see companies shift from what’s the largest screen size, the smallest form factor or the shiniest object and more into what all of these devices do that’s practical in a consumer’s life.”
Functionality Is More Important Than Cool
Making something practical should be the bare minimum that a tech company wants to achieve, even more so if they want to stand out in the crowd. The question is … how do they get the “wow” factor back?
Assuming that less-tech savvy consumers are treating new devices with a collective shrug, turning hype into reality would be a good start. Trade shows like CES are great at putting new tech front and center, but combating consumer fatigue—or even boredom—is not just about giving people more toys to play with.
The Internet of Things is a prime example. CES 2016 was filled with IoT-ready devices and data-centric machines, all of which are supposed to usher in a brave new world of connected bliss. Which is great news for anyone that has been waiting for a fridge that orders groceries or a belt that prompts you to walk faster.
Investors have been betting on the Internet of Things for some time, but the tech is still perceived by the general public—the ones that actually buy stuff—as one-to-watch rather than own. According to Accenture’s report, demand for IoT-enabled devices has been sluggish, with consumers citing a number of reasons why they have not jumped on the IoT bandwagon.
“The slow pace of adoption of new technologies is a major disappointment for the industry,” said Accenture. “While there has been a lot of momentum in enterprise IoT innovation and commercial solutions are relatively easy to visualize, the industry has not delivered well-articulated consumer solutions thus far.”
For starters, people don’t see a value proposition in the Internet of Things, the report said. Around 62% of respondents to the survey said that devices were too expensive, 47% had concerns with privacy and security while 23% had no idea as what device would be of use. Around 17% said that IoT-ready devices were confusing with 13% saying that a device did not work in the way that they expected.
Writing in the The Washing Post, Hayley Tsukayama said that useful or practical devices were not easy for consumers to find and asked whether we are in some sort of “innovation lull.” Tsukayama cited the smart home as one example of how brands want to broaden the appeal of the Internet of Things but are being stymied by compatibility issues.
“No average person wants to figure out whether their favorite calendar software works with their fridge or whether their washing machine and tablet get along,” Tsukayama said.
Gadgets Need To Solve Problems
Irrespective of this neo-Luddite viewpoint, there are signs that increasing awareness now will encourage some growth in the future. Accenture’s report—released under the heading of “Igniting Growth in Consumer Technology”—said that the average person should always be the focus, especially if mass adoption is the goal.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers showed small levels of purchase intent, with 13% of people saying that they would buying either one or both in 2016—a 1% increase from 2014, the report said.
Both Apple and Fitbit will be introducing new products this year—Apple Watch 2 and the Fitbit Blaze—and smartwatch shipments are predicted to increase from 21.3 million units last year to 34.3 million units in 2016, according to forecasts made by the IDC.
Smart home thermostats and connected surveillance cameras were on the shopping list for 9% and 11%, respective, while drones—a constant presence on the show floor at CES 2016, according to ARC Editor-in-Chief Dan Rowinski—would be bought by 7% of people this year.
Does this mean that the “wow” factor is slowly coming back? The simple answer is that only time will tell. And the only people who can really provide any clues as to what will and won’t be popular in 2016 are the ones who might buy something … the general public.