I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we won’t be saving people’s lives with ambulance drones soon, we won’t be getting Amazon packages via Prime Air ever, and airborne pizza runs are out of the question. Drones for such uses are so critically flawed that to see the amount of press attention they garner makes me concerned about our collective intelligence, but hopeful for our optimism and imagination.
Drones are one of the biggest distractions in the media right now. Amazon gets abundant free PR while covering up the failure of Fire, their shocking treatment of employees and woeful profit record. The media get easy clicks, and we all get to hope and dream and maybe buy one for 14 year-old nephews.
The promise of 3D printing seems to garner ever more attention by the day, especially in the run up to the holidays. We see shop windows boasting about 3D printing in-store, with pink plastic trinkets, badly made iPhone cases and cheap pointless object d’art scattered in window displays. We hear how 3D printing can make guns, cars, houses -- but can’t we make all these things already?
We see the connected home, our chance to finally make phone calls from the fridge, to control our lighting from our phone, to let our smartwatch order a sports drink while we are running. Our smoke alarm can email us when the house is burning down. What could possibly go wrong? I still waiting for my printer to work with my Mac.
Now don’t get me wrong -- I am the most positive person about new technology you will ever meet. I think we will see smart homes developing, and they will change how we live our lives. Drones have some incredibly useful niches, mainly involving saving and ending lives. I’m sure that 3D printing will find its thing, probably in surgery, spare parts and artwork. More than anything, I think the Internet of things will bring about an era of smart cities and an incredible future of energy and time-efficient living.
But for the moment, and especially for marketers, these technologies are a distraction. They are technologies looking for a problem to solve. They are physical, exciting, totally new and they are big in scale — yet as counterintuitive as this sounds, they are the opposite of what marketers need.
We always think the people who make vast amounts of cash are those who do bold new things, invent big new products, or are the first to market dramatic new concepts. But it’s not really like this. Most of the really successful people do the small boring stuff that nobody else could be bothered to. It’s never the fun stuff shark tank — it’s the bit of plastic that allows plasterboard to be fixed more easily. It’s not the vast new retail concepts -- it’s Alibaba, a boring way to connect buyers with producers. The people who make serious cash are rarely companies like Spotify, but companies that make printer software.
As deflating as it sounds, it’s the small stuff that makes the difference. It’s the application of technology to solve problems; it’s the detail; it’s the removal of barriers.
So the next time you want to make a big difference to your company, don’t be distracted by big inspiration but focus on small problem-solving. It’s not about finding a new way to use iBeacons, it’s about understanding what people need in stores and helping them, perhaps with iBeacons.
Game changes in mobile commerce will likely come from the tiny bit of code that allows you to pay via Apple Pay for anything online with one tap. Game changes in automotive sales may come from the best integration of phones.
Being the market leader in television sales may come from being the first to aid the discovery of content in a better way, or from interchangeable bezels, or prettier remote controls — not from curved screens.
Game changes in mobile advertising may come from adding mobile coupons. I’d click on a banner ad if I could get $5 off my shop and just keep it on my phone.
I’m in the UK at the moment, where we have a high-speed train that travels 150 mph and costs $10bn to make, yet I bypassed this a few days ago because the slower train running parallel has WiFi.
Generally with innovation, the long-term impact of technology is underestimated, yet the short term is overestimated. So here is a thought: Keep one eye on the amazing things that happen with the Internet of Things, and keep your mind spinning on the potential of a world with self-driving cars, of wearable computing -- but keep a focus on what can be done today that is simple and makes a big difference.
As Apple shows over Samsung, simple human-centric design wins over technology any day.