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Our Digital Lives Are At A Crossroads

With technology changing the fundamentals of digital, companies have choices to make

5Jan

People in the mid 1990's thought that they lived in an internet led world. Yet, when you look at the development of the internet in only the last 5 years, it is clear that they were anything but, they were simply in the shallows of the lake that it would become.

The same is true of our current digital technology and how our lives now may seem digitally led, but the reality is that we are probably not close to the potential impact that it will have.

We are currently at a crossroads, where our digital technologies are being transformed, but the transformation currently seems pointless as what we are using at the moment works fine. There are so many examples of this in the past, with one of the most famous being Thomas Watson's prediction that 'I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.' The truth is that between the mid-1970s and 2002, one billion were sold and it took only another 7 years for the second billion to be reached. Today it is predicted that there are 2 billion currently in use, meaning that the total number sold is considerably higher.

Commentators who laugh at the idea of VR becoming a genuinely useable product, or wearable technology being simply a fad, are in danger of falling into the Watson trap. Even elements of the internet, such as how products are advertised or how online companies make money, are probably only the tip of the iceberg compared to how the market will look in a decade. At present there are very few products on the market, with Google Glass being shut down, Microsoft Hololens yet to be released and Oculus Rift (arguably the most developed) only hitting pre-order stage in the first weeks of 2016. However, Digi-Capital, a tech advisory firm, predict that virtual and augmented reality will account for a $150 billion industry in 2020.

For the last decade, money made by content sites has been through either subscription models or advertising, but with subscription models showing very mixed responses and standard advertising models being affected by ad blockers, making money in these ways is likely to change. Small moves have been made to address this, with titles like the Toronto star adopting 'Star Touch' with interactive content appearing via an app once per day, after dropping their original paywall model in April 2015. Although this approach is certainly looking at maximizing ROI for the title, it is essentially doing the same thing but on a different format, and it is likely to be the tentative steps that lead to much bigger breakthroughs.

Wearable technologies are also seen as a gimmick at the moment, with what William Van Hecke, User Experience Lead at the Omni Group, describes as predominantly being a 'window on your wrist.' It means that with limited capabilities (there are very few standalone smartwatches currently available) people are unsure of the reason for them. Similarly, with the limited capabilities of the Google Glass, the best known augmented reality wearable, it left people asking why they would need one. However, PC Advisor note that, 'There's an interesting theory that smartwatches are to the smartphone what wristwatches were to the pocket watch,' which may indicate the potential uses for them in the future. Commentators are also optimistic about their potential, with Statistica predicting in the Wearable Technology 2015-2025: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts report that the market for wearable technology will be at $70 billion by 2025.

These developments are undoubtedly going to change the landscape of our digital lives, and the biggest problem that we are going to face is not in the adoption of these technologies as a society, but will instead be from the companies who have not kept up. We have already seen previously dominant digital companies plummet off their perches. Yahoo had a market cap of $140 billion in 2000, but their core business was valued at negative $3.5 billion in September 2015 by CNN. There is also MySpace, which was bought by Rupert Murdoch for $580 million, only to be sold for $35 million just 2 years later. These both show that being 'digital' companies isn’t enough, you have to adapt to industry changes.

With the ground shaking developments that VR/AR, online monetization and wearable tech represent, companies have reached a crossroad that they need to navigate. Do they head straight ahead in the same direction or fully embrace the developments at this early stage?

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