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Travel Tech

The recent release of the Apple Watch is expected to kickstart the wearables marketplace. With Apple having taken in the region of 3 million pre-orders for this device, it seems a certainty that wearable technology is about to become a mainstream proposition. But the forthcoming popularity of the Apple Watch and the wearable sphere leads into an entirely new rhyming subject matter!

Wearables, nearables and hearables are three buzz terms which digital marketers are going to encounter a lot in the coming years. Wearables of course refers to any form of sophisticated, computer-like technology which can be worn on one's person. Smartwatches are but one example of this particular niche, with other prominent examples of wearable trilogy including Google Glass.

It should be emphasised that wearables are seen as being convenient, easily transportable technology; thus, most conventional forms of virtual reality should not be considered wearables in that sense.

Wearables

Although wearables are expected to become a mainstream form of technology in the near future, it should also be stated that the niche is facing challenges. Google Glass bombed completely in commercial terms, and smartwatches have not really reached a mainstream audience as of yet. Additionally, technical accuracy, technological and compatibility problems, battery life issues, and consumer fickleness and ambivalence to the health-tracking aspects of wearable technology are all obstacles for this innovation to negotiate. Before the release of the Apple Watch, it was notable that many smartwatches were subsequently sold rapidly on auction sites such as eBay.

The Digital Tourism Think Tank has already reported extensively on the importance of this technology for the travel industry. Thus, you can read our report on the purported Microsoft smartwatch here, our analysis of the Apple Watch here, our discussion of passenger technology related to wearable technology here, and the development of medical AI-related wearable technology which could have an impact on digital travel marketing here.

Nearables

Nearables is a term now commonly used to describe the idea of smart objects; everyday items with small, wireless computing devices attached to them. This is very much a companion to wearables, with such nearable technology able to communicate with mobile devices in range, offering a significant and diverse range of useful information.

There are already many examples of nearable technology available, with iBeacons an obvious and prominent one. iBeacon is a technology described by developers Apple as "a new class of low-powered, low-cost transmitters that can notify nearby iOS 7 or 8 devices of their presence.” The technology enables smartphones and other mobile devices to perform actions when in close proximity to an iBeacon, opening up mobile devices to a raft of retail and marketing opportunities.

The Digital Tourism Think Tank has already reported on the travel industry testing iBeacon as a potential retail and marketing tool, and also on the raft of nearable technology systems which are available, and how they will feed into the next generation of mobile payments.

Hearables

Of the three concepts, hearables are probably the least well-known at this point in time. Hearables are wireless wearable computing earpieces that enable voice input, and return results audibly to the user’s ear. So obviously hearables are effectively a form of wearable device, but one distinguished by the fact that they primarily communicate with users audially.

For the hearing aid industry, hearables are likely to be a disruptive technology because they could perform hearing aid tasks better, with additional functions, at a lower cost and with less user-perceived social stigma. But they also offer opportunities for those with normally adjusted hearing as well.

These are likely to be significant concepts for the travel industry in the foreseeable future, but what is particularly notable about wearables, nearables and hearables is that the barriers to the adoption as standard forms of technology are set to dissipate during the next twelve months. 2015 could very well be here when the technical gateways that consumers use to interact with their immediate surroundings will significantly expand and become increasingly standardised. The whole concept of the ‘three ables’ is to make everyday life more convenient, and it very much ties into the concept of the important technology of the Internet of things. Increasingly, every device we used will be smart, connected to the Internet, and capable of providing us with a continual feedback loop.

Evolving Mobile

Although each of these forms of technology promises to become significantly more prominent in the near future, no-one should underestimate the continuing dominance of mobile. Smartphones retain awesome popularity in the Western world, and are beginning to penetrate developing economies and even the Third World. Meanwhile, although tablet sales have fallen somewhat in the last twelve months or so, the increasing amount of real world applications for tablet consumers and shows means that this nice has plenty of life in it yet. You would struggle to turn on the television without seeing a tablet computer being utilised, underlining the fact that Apple has revolutionised the world of computing with the market-leading iPad.

However, despite the fact that mobile remains important - and indeed the Digital Tourism Think Tank has communicated on many occasions just how important mobile is to tourism marketers and destinations - there is a tension at the heart of mobile as a technology platform. On the one hand, consumers are increasingly obsessed with connecting with mobile devices and all of the information and services that it offers. And on the other hand, there is a constant need to actually pay attention to the real world around us! How many times have you walked down the street recently and found someone rather inappropriately glued to their particular handset?!

Wearables, nearables and hearables will to some extent fit into this mobile world, but they also offer a more convenient alternative to smartphones and tablets. Although existing smartwatch manufacturers have struggled to define the niche to a certain extent, the obvious advantage of wearable technology is its convenience. Smartphones are not particularly bulky or cumbersome items, but having a tiny mobile computer on one's wrist is obviously a notion that could become extremely popular in the near future. It has clear potential, and once this potential is realised then nearables and hearables will also come into their own.

Convenient Retail

In short, the technology market is now ripe for complimentary smart devices that enable people to carry out some of the tasks that they have typically executed with a smartphones in more convenient fashion. Effectively, people can now gain access to the same digital content that was previously consumed through smartphones and tablets without the need to inappropriately bury our attention in an attendant screen.

If this is to be achieved, then the alternative smart devices must offer at least some of the functionality of smartphones. This is where nearable technology comes in, which offers the ability for geographical locations and alerts offering direction and reminders to be communicated and transmitted.

Nearables are already being integrated into services by a wide range of businesses. One example of this is Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which introduced virtual doors, made unlockable via smartphone and Volvo’s virtual car locks.

Numerous other brands are also taking advantage of iBeacons, particularly its ability to identify and target customers in physical locations. It is the ability of this technology to promptly target customers based on their physical location that will be so useful for marketers and businesses, with the potential to target offers and promotions with much greater precision than was possible previously.

iBeacon Case Study - MLB

An early adopter of iBeacon technology has been Major League Baseball. The MLB utilises this new Apple technology in order to provide fans of baseball with access to tailor-made offers, information about facilities, beam video clips direct to fans, and a variety of other attractive opportunities. This enhances trips to the ballpark for fans of the game, while providing retail and commercial opportunities for baseball teams.

iBeacon Case Study - Macy's

This infamous US department store is one of the most prominent businesses to experiment with iBeacons. Macy’s has enabled customers to interact with them via the Shopkick app, we can be installed on iPhones. Although this excludes Android mobile users, the vast popularity of the iPhone platform ensures that there is still an extremely fertile audience of potential consumers.

Once entering a Macy's store, shoppers who have installed the appropriate software are then alerted about deals and items they may be interested in. These alerts can be tailored to the individual in a pretty sophisticated fashion based on data provided by the consumer.

Although this obviously provides commercial opportunities, it should be said in mitigation that the downside of such promotions is the potential of annoying consumers. However, to some extent this is a risk of all marketing, and retailers and businesses in general will become more shrewd and skilled in utilising iBeacons appropriately with experience.

iBeacon Case Study - American Eagle Outfitters

American Eagle Outfitters is another business which has taken advantage of the Shopkick app. This enables the retailer to ensure that specific customers receive a welcome message every time they enter a store, and are provided with details of location-specific rewards, deals, discounts and product recommendations.

What is particularly impressive about the approach taken by American Eagle Outfitters is that customers have no need to open the application in order to receive messages. As long as consumers have tagged products with the app previously, reminders will automatically be sent to search for them while they are in store.

iBeacon Case Study - Apple

It is hardly supposing that Apple has chosen to take advantage of its own proprietary technology, and the consumer electronics giant has already arranged for its innovation to provide retailers with services in its 254 stores across the United States. In the case of Apple, iBeacons are used in conjunction with the company's Apple Store app.

Apple will provide customers with notifications via iBeacons once orders have been assembled and are ready for collection. Additionally, it is possible for consumers to receive prompts regarding such services as phone upgrades while in relevant areas of the Apple store.

These are just a few examples of how companies are putting iBeacon technology to good use. But the mobile revolution doesn’t stop here.

Hearables and Health and Fitness

Smart ear devices featuring 3D audio notification may prove a more accurate and less obtrusive alternative to existing health and fitness wearables. The proximity of hearables to blood vessels within the ear, and the other apparatus involved in hearing, makes the technology ideal for this particular niche.

The ability to continually measure activity within the ear will provide extremely useful and accurate signals during physical activity. This will enable a much more accurate picture of heart rates, restoration rates and other indicators to be acquired. At the same time, it will still be possible for people exercising to listen to music via the technology as they train.

Although this has obvious health-related functionality, it is easy to see how it could be adapted for other issues including tourism as well. Hearables could be used to provide directions, price comparison information and localised offers to consumers. Although this is a technology that is still very much in its infancy, and requires considerable development, it is an innovation with huge potential.

Conclusion

Wearables, hearables and nearables may not seriously challenge the consumer dominance of the smartphone. All available evidence suggests that mobile is still an incredibly prominent platform, and indeed one that will grow in the coming years due to a variety of commercial and demographic reasons.

However, this new technology can be viewed as a companion to smartphones and other forms of mobile technology, and indeed this is very much how Apple views the Apple Watch. The market-leading consumer electronics manufacturer has ensured that there is a symbiotic relationship between the Apple Watch and iPhone, and this is something that we may see extended with other wearable, nearable and hearable devices in the near future.

Once wearable technology in particular establishes itself, consumers will naturally begin to have different demands from the purchasing experience. Increasingly, devices which require less effort and screen time than existing smartphones will become more attractive, and this will lead both designers of technology and businesses from a wide variety of backgrounds to ask themselves searching questions about retail and consumer experiences.

Wise digital marketers, travel-related businesses and destinations will already be pondering how they can make the most of this technology in the near future.

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