The rectangle decade and the shape of the future

This year marks a decade of the smartphone ecosystem as we know it. While the original iPhone debuted in 2007, it was the introduction of the App Store with the iPhone 3G in 2008 that kicked off the era of a rectangle in every pocket.

Coincidentally, this month marks half a decade of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) as a meaningful addition to that ecosystem. Back in September of 2013, Apple introduced iBeacon with iOS 7, and we were quick to demonstrate the transformative potential of the technology (read this article and watch the video below) which surely contributed to our capture of the title “World’s Best Startup” two months later.

*Despite being hastily recorded, that video is still, by an order of magnitude, our most viewed!

Take a moment to recall your first smartphone, your first delightful experience, and the truly novel features you gained when upgrading to your second and perhaps even third. It’s not difficult to argue that there was genuine cause for excitement during that early period where smartphones and their apps had sparked symbiotic innovation on an unprecedented scale.

Now take a moment to recall your first smartphone with BLE (ex: iPhone 4S and beyond…).   Was your mind not blown?   Oh wait, it wasn’t?   You mean this didn’t change everything?

Back in 2013, we envisaged a second wave of symbiotic innovation, this one combining mobile apps with BLE’s connectionless discovery features. We saw iBeacon as a lighthouse in your pocket, making a bold prediction of social networking leading to the emergence of the IoT as your Brand Ambassador. That second wave of innovation sure has been long in the tooth! At this month’s Place Conference on location and proximity, mobile BLE was relegated to a cursory mention. Moreover, last week at Bluetooth World, a friend and long-time pioneer of mobile Bluetooth proximity experiences shared with us his concern that recent and upcoming Android updates are actually stifling mobile innovation with BLE, confirming our own observations of late.

You could say that Apple and Google really “blue” this opportunity.

Frankly, it has reached a point where it’s difficult not to argue that our clients in smart workplaces, our current top vertical, wouldn’t be better served distributing inexpensive BLE badges/tags to their associates rather than asking them to install an app that only offers competitive performance when operated in foreground, and requires costly development and maintenance. $500 rectangle meet $5 indeed! Sadly, that is where we collectively find ourselves five years on!

A few months ago we asked what’s Beyond People-as-a-Product. As the smartphone ecosystem joins the decade club, we should definitely ask what’s Beyond-the-Rectangle? Could Google’s aforementioned tinkering be in preparation for something revolutionary they have up their sleeve? Can Apple still surprise us and usher in a new era with an iSomething? Might even a nimble and disruptive outsider dislodge the pair?

An optimist has grounds to argue that the next big thing is coming. A pessimist has grounds to argue that the giants of mobile and social media are digging in their heels to defend their current business models as long as they can. Either way, one thing is for sure:

the rectangle had a good decade run, but it’s unlikely the shape of things to come.

Real-time location finds some promising predictions for 2018

The Local Search Association‘s tradition of publishing expert predictions for the New Year is something we look forward to at the start of the year, and we’re excited about what the experts have to say about real-time location in 2018.

Beginning with user data, Foursquare‘s Steven Rosenblatt predicts:

marketers will turn their focus towards data quality and hold their data partners and providers to higher standards and increased transparency to ensure fresh, first-party (opted-in) data that drives meaningful consumer engagement and better business results.

Our 2017 LSA prediction concerning opt-in turned out to be overly optimistic, and, as we argue in our previous blog post, the major platforms seem reticent to create real-world opt-in capabilities. However, we’ve long argued that individuals will gladly opt-in and share relevant data in exchange for something of real value to them, and would be very pleased to see a surge in such opt-in opportunities in 2018.

Of course, data quality isn’t only about the user: what about the location itself? Reveal Mobile‘s Brian Handly argues:

This doesn’t just mean accuracy of the location data, but also the accuracy of the points of interest that location data is matched against.

Indeed, we too think this will become a key focus in 2018, as we ourselves predicted (on page 64) that retailers will begin to model their physical operations after their established e-commerce practices, by associating each physical point of interest with its online equivalent: the corresponding product/category webpage. In other words, physical browsing behaviour will be measured and analysed exactly as online browsing behaviour, using the latter’s established set of tools.

Measure the real world like the web

And how will the distribution of such high-quality data take place in 2018? Thinknear‘s Brett Kohn argues:

The emergence of data marketplaces, improved transparency, and the desire of app publishers to monetize through data rather than ads is driving a wave of data streams into the market.

The emergence and acceptance of data marketplaces will be critical for the widespread adoption of real-time location capabilities. And standards for both first-party data and semantic location data (points of interest) will be essential for such marketplaces to extend seamlessly to applications beyond advertising and retail, as Ubimo‘s Gilad Amitai predicts:

We will also see an acceleration in the usage of real time location intelligence technology and data outside of MarTech in areas such as real-estate, city planning and social studies.

That’s consistent with our observations: real-estate and the smart workplace are driving our business this year while there’s enormous potential for smart cities on the horizon.

It’s refreshing to kick off 2018 with such promising predictions for real-time location, with all the key ingredients potentially and potently mixing together: user opt-in, unified semantic location and marketplace data distribution to serve diverse applications which extend far beyond advertising!

$500 rectangle meet $5 rectangle

We started 2017 by (optimistically) predicting that a major social network would empower their users to “advertise” their profile to specific physical places they visit. In other words:

We expected 2017 to be the dawn of seamless PHYSICAL social networking.

We had high hopes for Snap when this year we observed their Spectacles transmitting uniquely-identifiable Bluetooth “advertising” packets. Would Snap equip hip venues to recognise their young, uninhibited, Spectacled users, deliver them unforgettable, personalised real-world experiences, and make rivals Facebook look even more like a boring platform for their parents?   No.

How about Facebook? We caught up with them at Place Conference again this year where they shared how they had reached 2 billion monthly active users, and how 1 in 10 people open their app while in retail stores. Wow! Would Facebook swoop in as brick-and-mortar retail’s sole saviour by sharing their view of the customer, detected in-store via the Facebook app? How about if we shared with them the exact technical blueprints to make it happen?   No.

How about Google? In February, we updated our own reelyApp to show how Google’s Physical Web could let users “advertise” themselves to their surroundings in a web-standard format. When running the app, people would approach us and curiously inquire “how did your profile get on my phone?” Would Google leverage their popular browser, mobile OS and understanding of the user to make browsing the “Physical Web” as seamless as browsing online?   No.

We even asked Scott Jenson (then) director of the Physical Web, at Bluetooth World 2017, about this powerful feature to which he replied that “it’s not intended for the average person to advertise themselves.” Indeed, while Google will let you do it, they don’t want you to (does that qualify as permissionless innovation?) and the fragmented Android hardware results in inconsistent Bluetooth behaviour. Apple on the other hand can boast about their devices’ Bluetooth stability, but severely restricts what a mobile application can actually transmit (the Eddystone packets of the Physical Web are a definite no-no).

Why do we continue to put up with paying $500 for rectangles that impede the potential of physical social networking?

Seriously. Since our pioneering technology demo in 2013 and the subsequent GigaOM article that highlighted the potential, aside from several retail and smart office apps we developed with our partners, we haven’t identified a single major mobile application that enables the recognition of its users on a human scale, in the real world. It’s as if Apple and Google don’t want this to happen — and perhaps, sadly, that is the most logical conclusion.

Why buy a $500 rectangle when a $5 rectangle can do the job?

2017 was a big year for the post-mobile, $5 rectangle future:

  1. the $5 beacons exist in rectangular (and other) form factors, are now reliable, and can be reliably sourced
  2. a growing family of such beacons can have their behaviour programmed by even a non-technical person through a web browser (see puckyActive)
  3. a ubiquitous in-building infrastructure to “hear” these beacons has seen the light

In less-technical terms, that means you can buy and wear/carry a tiny $5 device whenever you’d like to be automatically recognised by a physical space. That could be in your smart workplace which assists you to perform your work more efficiently (our top application today). That could be at a smart venue which assists you to physically network like a boss while your mobile remains tucked away in your pocket. In time, every space will have the ability to recognise its occupants who choose if/what they’d like to share. Are we perhaps approaching peak-mobile?

Those who remember reelyActive in 2012 undoubtedly remember our live directory where your physical presence in a venue was indicated on an ambient display. In anticipation of what’s to come, we’ve now revived and revamped the Live Directory, as well as introduced other calm visualisations such as Sonar and Raindrops.

Why get your information from a $500 5-inch screen when a 32-inch+ screen is provided by the venue and is free to recognise what should be displayed to you!

We find it difficult not to be optimistic about the future that we’ve already created for ourselves. But to share this future with a broad audience, it seems imperative to first overcome both the entrenched mobile-centric view of the universe and the comfort of incremental change. Not easy, but not impossible.

Imagine, at CES 2019, row upon row of vendors selling custom cases for $5 rectangles. As in Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come.

OOH! A social media prediction for 2017

In 2016, we postulated that the Internet of Things may very well prove to be a personal brand ambassador for each and every one of us, given that the devices we carry and wear make it possible to “advertise” our digital selves to the physical places we visit. When the Local Search Association asked us and 50 experts about the future of location-based marketing and media we replied:

our prediction for 2017 is that the first major social network will empower their users to experiment with this feature

Technology is no longer the blocker, as you can “advertise” yourself with reelyApp using established standards as we described in detail months ago.

And we can already push the concept quite far in everyday life. We proved, with our partners, measurable ROI in retail with a live deployment that even triggers contextually-relevant videos on displays to shoppers:

Now extend that capability across a city. In anticipation of programmatic advertising, out-of-home (OOH) media companies are scrambling to adopt technologies that can measure real-world audiences in real-time. Such technologies will enable citywide marketplaces for the data you choose to share, as we presented at a recent Ericsson Smart Cities event:

All the emerging marketplace is missing is a critical mass of individuals with the incentive to “advertise” their digital selves. And a major social network is the ideal candidate to bring exactly that to the table.

We’re working to kindle that marketplace, engaging both sides of the table, and recently adding key enabling features to our Pareto platform, including programmatic content triggers. We even memed the personalised advertising scene from The Minority Report (2002) to serve as the default video content.

15 years ago, would you have predicted that we would today choose to carry and wear personal identification devices?

Are we right to predict that a major social network will empower such users to share what they want when they want in exchange for personalised everyday experiences? Let’s see what 2017 has in store, pun intended!