Oct 312015

The US smartwatch market in not yet ready for prime time says Kantar Worldpanel finding most consumers are saying the devices are too expensive and don’t add enough value.

Kantar’s findings are underscored by Apple’s giving discounts to buyers of its smartwatch, something the company is certainly known for.

For all the hype, it appears the smartwatch may well have been the classic tech solution looking for a problem.

Sep 282015

“No business or brand has a divine right to succeed,” said McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook last May.

As McDonalds’ management desperately try to adapt to a changed marketplace, Bloomberg Business spoke to some of those bearing the greatest risks – the fast food chain’s franchisees.

The expansion of menu items and the shift to more custom produced burgers is creating problems for franchisees and store managers as equipment and procedures designed for simpler times struggles with varying demands.

McDonalds is in a terrible bind as the company faces a society-wide shift in consumption that leaves its business model stranded at the same time that the market is wanting more customised products.

The latter is an aspect that many businesses whose success and profitability is based on mass production are now facing as customised products become easier and cheaper to produce.

While McDonalds isn’t likely to go out of business soon, the broader trends aren’t running in its favour. That’s bad news for both the company and its franchisees.

Sep 032014
mobile payments through smartphones and other devices are changing business

This post is the second in a series of four sponsored stories brought to you by Nuffnang.

During the recent switch over to chip and pin payments, many in the restaurant industry feared that tips would fall and waitstaff would lose jobs, the reality is somewhat different claims PayPal.

Last week I had the opportunity to tour the PayPal Innovation Centre in San Jose where they showed off the work they are doing in the retail and hospitality industries to change payment systems.

One of the products they showed was their Pay At Table app that integrates into a café or restaurant’s point of sale system and allows customers to pay their bills immediately.

The immediate reaction to this has been resistance from restaurant managers who were worried customers to skip without paying. For waitstaff, the worry was they could be replaced by an app.

It turns out the technology has had a different effect, the productivity of floor staff in the establishments where the app has been trialled has improved substantially.

“In a typical café it takes around ten minutes to get the check,” says the lead demonstrator of the Innovation Center, Michael Chaplin. “We find that freeing waitstaff up to help customers and letting them pay their bills faster means everybody is happier.”

With that ten minute per table improvement, management have found customers’ satisfaction has improved and the waitstaff have seen tips improve – partly because diners are happy and also because the tipping is integrated into the payment, calculating an appropriate gratuity is always a hassle in the United States.

That ease of payment from mobile phone and table apps is rolling across industries, it’s not just limited to the hospitality sector. Increasingly these technologies are being used by tradespeople, retailers and across the service industries

Increased productivity is more than just saving money and reducing staff numbers, it’s about giving the customer a more seamless and easy experience.

All business need to think carefully about how they can use technology to improve their service and increase revenues.

Jun 172014

Today Amazon is expected to launch a smartphone which the New York Times suggests will tether consumers to the company.

With 240,0000 apps in its Kindle store, Amazon will be formidable competitor to Google Android devices and Apple. Like iTunes, Amazon also have a strength in already knowing the customer’s credit card details.

The question is can Amazon be trusted? As we see with the Hachette book publishers dispute, Amazon is a company that’s ruthless in bullying suppliers and has a mandate to do so from its shareholders.

With the smartphone becoming the centre of the connected lifestyle, the stakes are high as whoever controls the customer’s pocket controls the customer’s smarthome, smartcar, retail and health applications.

Of course whoever wins this battle, they’ll still have to pay Microsoft for patents.


Apr 182014

After four decades the smartphone comes of age,” proclaims Micheal Wolf in Forbes Magazine.

Wolf is right to a point but he misses the key reason why the smarthome, or the entire internet of things, has become accessible – the technology has simply become affordable.

It was possible to build a smarthome two decades ago, but it was fiendishly expensive and only a few rich people could afford the technology. Today that technology is cheap and easy to install.

This is the common factor with all aspect of the Internet of Things, connecting devices has been possible since before the internet became common but it was expensive and cumbersome so only the highest value equipment – such as oil rigs – was connected.

Now it’s inexpensive and simple to connect things, people are doing it more and that is why there’s a range of security and privacy issues which weren’t so pressing when it was only a few obscure industrial devices that were wired up.

We aren’t inventing the wheel with technologies like the internet of things or big data, they already existed – they are just more accessible and that’s what’s changing business.

Feb 112014

HTC’s announcement that the company going to focus on lower margin, mid market smartphones illustrates the maturing of the phone marketplace.

Smartphones have been a huge, and immensely profitable, business for cellphone manufacturers however the devices are now becoming a commodity as the high end western markets become saturated and cheaper devices start to enter the marketplace.

Having been comprehensively defeated in the high end marketplace by Samsung and Apple, Taiwanese manufacturer HTC hopes to make money in the lower end of the market.

For HTC it’s questionable how profitable these cheaper markets will be; rebates to telcos and distributor markups tend to eat up most the margin while pushing up retail costs.

The biggest factor of all though is the entry of newer Chinese businesses into the market, it’s going to be a tough for the Taiwanese manufacturer to compete with these suppliers.

Even Apple and Samsung are being affected by the slowing demand for high end smartphones.

HTC’s dilemma would be familiar to most electronic manufacturers; the high end of the market is a narrow niche – the premium smartphone market, like PCs, is dominated by Apple – while the other suppliers fight not to find themselves locked into the commodity end of the market.

For HTC the trap is not to fall into the commodity trap; although it’s hard to see how they’ll do this in a smartphone market that’s increasingly becoming a low margin, high volume game where, like the PC market, there is no middle ground.

Oct 072013

“If I’d asked my customers we’d have built a faster horse,” is a quotation often attributed, probably incorrectly, to Henry Ford.

The point of the quote is that asking today’s customers about tomorrow’s market is pretty pointless when new products change consumer behaviour.

Just as the farmer of 1906 had no inkling of how the motor car, truck and tractor would change their business, the cellphone user of 2006 had no idea of how the iPhone would change the way they used a phone and communicated with the world.

Which brings us to Nokia.

The Sami Consulting blog discusses how Nokia lost their lead in the cellphone business as the market migrated the Apple and later Android smartphones.

Nokia’s problem was they spoke to their customers about their existing mobile phone use rather than considered how the technology might evolve.

When the inventors of the touchscreen approached Nokia, the company carefully evaluated the technology, consulted their customers and decided it wouldn’t work for their products.

What does this story tell about foresight?  First, it shows that innovation creates futures that are fundamentally unpredictable. We do not have facts or data about things that do not exist yet.  When a mobile phone becomes an internet device with sensors, touch screens, and broadband access, it becomes a new thing.  If you ask your existing customers what they like, the answer will always be about incremental improvements.  When you ask about the future, the answer will always be about history.

In many ways Nokia were the beneficiaries of a transition effect, they took advantage of a brief period of technological change  and were caught flat footed when the technologies evolved further.

To be fair, it’s hard to see that change when you’re focused on incremental improvements.

The motor car turned out to define the Twentieth Century – even Henry Ford couldn’t have foreseen how the automobile would change society and the design of our communities.

Both the motor industry and smartphone industries are going through major change, particularly as the internet of everything sees the two technologies coming together.

One thing is for sure, how we use our phones and cars over the next fifty years will be very different to how we use them today.