Beacons And Wearables -- Overhyped, Or Just Waiting For Apple's Next Moves?

It can be very tempting to go with the latest craze, particularly when the headlines you read tie in with conversations you've had with people whose opinions you respect. That's it's always difficult to face an inconvenient truth that you and they might be wrong when the public is asked for an opinion or a brand that is being relied on to buy into a new piece of technology categorically says it is not what consumers want.

For the sake of balance -- after I've often wondered aloud if wearables really have a future but have happily extolled the virtues of beacon technology -- it's worth taking a look at the news coming from top people in our industry from Barcelona's Mobile World Congress as well as the latest research Marketing Week reports on today. As we take a look at these developments, we must remember that it is very rare for a company to develop technology that people didn't think they needed and to be successful -- Apple springs to mind as an honourable exception, with its iPhone and iPad products.

If we're honest, I suspect that most of us have wondered whether people will really want to buy and use wearables. Fitness trackers are always going to have a niche for those calorie dodging types who set an example for us mere mortals to follow as they cycle to work, hit the gym in evening and run half marathons at the weekend. Beyond that, though, the market is less clear and a lack of general interest was potentially exhibited by Google quietly dropping its Google Glass whose wearer had, rather unkindly, been referred to as "glassholes." 

Today's research points out that nearly two in three (61%) consumers are not interested in buying a wearable device because more than one in three (37%) don't see the need for it.

It was a similar story for a roundtable that Marketing Week has reported on at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where marketing heads of both Barclays bank and the betting business, Paddy Power, claimed beacon technology would be opposed by consumers. The message was that there are plenty of in-store ways of connecting with customers that do not need a mobile device -- because when you factor in the consumers who will have consented to being contacted, who have bluetooth switched on and are eager to see what flashes up on their screen, you will end up with a small minority.

These are, of course, the opinions of only two marketing heads, but they need to be taken into account. Just because beacons can beam information on to a consumer's handset, it doesn't actually mean that they want it to. At the same time, the killer use for wearables is clearly fitness, but this will only ever appeal to a certain number of people.

So what's the solution? If there's this great technology that digital marketers know will bring benefits to consumers as well as brands, then surely one survey and a roundtable can't kill them off, can they?

Well, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the company that turns what marketers know is possible into something consumers want is, once again, Apple.

Beacon technology could be intrusive, but what if the most useful service is payment. Apple Pay via iBeacons would allow people to automatically pay for goods, earn rewards, redeem vouchers and so on without having to rifle through a wallet for piece of paper and plastic. The extension would then be offers and promotions built around the value add, for the consumer, comes with simple payment. 

It's the same with watches, because ultimately, the device used could well be an Apple Watch. Have you seen the models they are due to launch next month? They're stunning. There are models for the techno nerd just as there are for the more fashion conscious. Price will obviously be important but if these devices aren't the killer gadget that gets wearables in to the mainstream, then I really do not know what will be. The secret is, the watches will be bought because they look fantastic and don't look like a swimming pool bracelet the tells swimmers when their turn is up and nor do they look like a nerd's revenge on the fashion industry. They're simply very attractive watches that bring connectivity and apps with them.

So here's a neck-on-the-line moment. Apple is expected to launch the Apple Watch, or iWatch, next week. This will be a line-in-the-sand moment for wearables as the mass market adopts conventional looking, useful items that happen to bring connectivity and apps with them. Apple Pay, combined with iBeacons, will eventually do the same for beacon technology because it's built around a customer need. Nobody really cares too much about missing an offer on baked beans but the ability to flash a device and pay for shopping with rewards and vouchers all catered for, there's a real benefit there.

So over to you, Apple. You only have the hopes and expectations of every digital marketers on your shoulders. No pressure then.

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