Beyond Apps… How Brands Will Interact with Wearable Devices.

“The AppStore is the new Rock ’n Roll”, I mentioned in an interview at Mobile Monday Amsterdam in 2008 when hardly anyone understood the implications the app economy would have on many business. With that quote I explained that the mobile app economy is very similar to the Billboard economy of the 2nd half of last century.

The ones who made it to the top 20 made a lot of money, the ones following still made good money but the ones after that were trying hard to make a nr.1 hit but actually never really made it. However, the road to get there was about the fun the musicians had enjoying playing together without wondering to make money.

The music business then was very attractive to many young creatives, and powerful because of its various lucrative business models (publishing, record sales, airplay, live events). It was sexy to be part of the “scene” — nowadays called “ecosystem”. There were lots of one-hit wonders but the artists who created several hits after one another were the dominant players in that billboard economy.

The same goes for app developers creating apps in the app economy. And the dominant players as well.

App Unbundling

The battle for presence on the home screen has been going on for years and the big tech companies are still fighting to dominate the app download lists and home screens of the users. The techniques used by these companies are labelled as app unbundling or app constellations (coined by Fred Wilson). There’s been some great discussions and thoughts exchanged on this issue over summer by Taylor Davidson, Andrew Chen and Benedict Evans. Must read stuff if you’re in mobile.

Basically, the big tech companies are creating specific apps to do simple tasking on mobile. Taylor Davidson describes what’s happening in a very accurate way:

“The examples of companies pursuing various types of unbundling strategies are well known: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Dropbox, Foursquare, Evernote are all well-known companies with millions to billions of users building and buying suites of apps. Facebook built Paper, Messenger, and Slingshot, and bought Instagram and WhatsApp. Twitter bought Vine. Dropbox built Carousel. Foursquare cleaved itself into two with Swarm and the new Foursquare. Evernote released Evernote Hello, Evernote Food, Skitch and Penultimate. Google has pursued a suite of apps strategy for awhile, but recently split out Sheets and Docs from the Google Docs app.”

The battle for the First Swipe.

This is true for smartphones but there’s more at stake as we move towards the battle for the “first swipe” for brands and companies to interact with users wearing wearable devices.

There’s an overload of apps nobody ever uses, actually the average user uses the same 10–15 apps everyday. Those apps are curiously apps from the big tech companies who dominate the users home screen. Check your homescreen.

This is what’s working for smartphones who depend on the attention span of the user and easy accessibility on the home screen. As we’re moving slowly towards more interactions with wearable devices, this strategy will become even more dominant for wearables.

Apps will still be used for specific tasks or interests but how will brands and platforms interact with wearable users? Apple and Google will control the wearable OS interfaces. There will be no space to install many apps and ad formats will move towards simple notifications. This is already happening: the notification becomes the interface.

The Notification becomes the Interface

The winners in mobile have one thing in common: create simplicity of use. Mobile interactions become simpler and more direct with immediate calls to action. This is the way technology moves towards interaction with wearable devices as well. New forms have to be invented to attract the attention of the users, especially on wearables where we move into an even more personal and private space/screen — there’s no room for messing around. In other words, the apps will be sitting invisible on the device but will only act/react when there’s a call for an action.

“Very soon, you may not need to open an app at all in order to interact with it. The app still lives on your devices, but its interface entirely resides on the layer on top of your phone: the notification layer.” — M.G. Siegler.

The user will still decide when he wants to be disturbed by notifications or not. The need for more relevance will become increasingly important for brands to communicate with users on wearables.

Deep Linking

Right now, linking on mobile is a lot more frustrating and complicated than it is on the web. There isn’t an easy, consistent way to control what happens when someone clicks on your content in mobile, which makes it difficult to provide the best experience for your users. It’s also hard to find out when — and how — to send people out of your app and directly into another.

Deep linking is one of the latest techniques used to link to specific pages within the app, beyond the app homepage itself and is very relevant for mobile.

Recently in London, I saw Uber appear as a route option under public transit. When tapped, Google Maps deep links to a view within the Uber app that has all of your trip information already filled out. Pretty mind blowing (see image from Google below).

Meanwhile, Facebook, Google, and Twitter all announced varying levels of support for deep links in their recent announcements; Facebook went a step further to announce App Links, an open, cross-platform solution for enabling deep linking.

Looking ahead, deep linking looks like it’s going to be useless for linking pages within apps on wearables. The notification instead, again, may become the dominant method for user interaction on wearables.

Or, maybe not?

Cards

Here’s how we are at the next evolution to advertise links on multi-platforms.

Twitter has launched “Twitter cards”, a smart move, where a card with a URL including (embedded information, images or videos) can be pushed on different platforms, networks and devices without having to worry if there’s an app installed or not.

“Twitter is turning ‘Twitter cards’ into a platform. You can embed video, or slides, or music — all sorts of things. You can embed a call to action that will harvest the account’s email address. And, increasingly, you can drive acquisition — of Spotify users, or apps, or customers. And thanks to retweets these cards can end up anywhere on Twitter, far beyond the original poster’s network. Twitter isn’t the only company doing this sort of thing. Many of the new crop of social messaging apps, such as Line, Kakao, WeChat and Kik, are also creating canvases of various kinds within their services — within individual messages. Kik and WeChat are exploring HTML5 games within the app itself, and WeChat is playing with retail coupons.” — Benedict Evans.

Wildcard is another startup that understood this and is growing fast. Many existing players are starting to use the same techniques with their apps (Linkedin, Tinder, Swipes). The “swipe” movement will be one of the main features for smart watch browsing and interaction (swipe up-down/left/right & click will be the interaction modus operandi, besides voice input.

Going Wearable

“Wearables should avoid the trap of over-notification. They should give us time back”, Ray Edwards mentioned recently at the Glazedcon wearable conference in London.

The future of interaction on wearables is about tracking the right data and to create great user experiences. Besides the specific apps we’ll still use for personalised enhanced experiences and health & fitness tracking, the wearable device will be the add-on to create a better experience with the real world, especially for shopping experiences.

Retailers becoming Publishers

With the launch of beacons, interaction platforms to interact with user devices (mobiles & wearables) are being installed in many retail stores now. Philips, General Electric, Motorola all have platforms. A new ecosystem of startups specialising in these new types of interaction is growing. Beacons have been deployed in single-brand retail stores and stadiums in the US, and are soon moving to retail megastores.

As such, retailers are becoming new publishers able to own the mobile location space within their stores and to push notifications, brand advertising and discounts to customers.

These platforms are able to trace phone purchases and apps and then theoretically link to an ad on a smart watch. The technology will as well work in reverse: Watches collect data—-spending habits, location, even health—-and the notifications strike the wearer on their email or phone.

In the end, it’s all about the data and what you can learn from it. This data will give brands and retailers a lot more info on user habits and patterns, in order to understand complex contextual user information, leading towards predicting the actionable intent of the user. These technological evolutions lead to new sales, new customers, and better marketing and product management. When done well.

Towards a new platform?

For the users, new “privacy” contracts may have to come in place as to what data the user is willing to “give” to the brands in exchange for discounts and promotions. It’s a good timing to launch a new platform, able to manage the privacy of the users (on various social networks) and the brand messages they’ll interact with.

You can view my presentation on Wearable Technology I did recently at Ignite London touching on these subjects as well.