Google’s Acquisition of Lytro goes Beyond VR

The promise of immersive digital experiences has always been the ability to transport an individual to a new place, a new experience, a new reality. However, due to hardware and software constraints, that promise has thus far fallen short of expectation. Google understands that in order to reach those goals, there needs to be a way to effectively capture the physical world with immense detail – and also have the ability to share those images in an immersive environment.

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Enter light field imaging. A conventional camera can capture the intensity of light coming from a scene, resulting in 2D images, with realistic shadows. A light-field camera is capable of capturing not only the intensity of light, but also the direction that those light rays are traveling in space. Done correctly, these images allow for hyper-realistic showcases of the real world. Knowing this, it makes sense that Google would then acquire light-field camera company Lytro, and it’s various patents/proprietary information. An early example of how these cameras will be used can be found in Googles new VR app, Welcome to Light Fields.

However, realistic image capturing goes well beyond virtual reality for the tech-behemoth. While the industry continues to mature, and the price & accessibility of the hardware continues to drop, look for Google to deploy this technology in a few different ways. Automotive mapping will allow for more precise self driving software and new mobile cameras will make way for contextually relevant experiences, as they allow for high quality data collection of the real world. The more real-time, high fidelity information that Google is able to ingest around a place or scene, the better they’ll be able to enhance consumers understanding of the world around them.

Implications

For marketers, there are deeper implications to this trend than simply being able to create compelling immersive experiences for their consumers. Sure, that’s important, and will increasingly bring new and fun ways to interact with a target market, but there’s an underlying trend here as well. As these light-field cameras make their way onto individual devices, consumers will be empowered to understand the world around them in ways not possible today.

Google Lens will deliver unprecedented contextually relevant information about people, places, and things. The friction between discovery and purchase will further decrease, and the search paradigm will continually shift from text based to visual. Computer vision and AI algorithms will learn more and more about the world around us, allowing for more seamless interactions with augmented reality and our pervasive digital assistants.

Technology is on course to eventually blend into the background, becoming more and more predictive rather than reactive – only showing itself when needed. The building blocks to that reality is the ability to fully understand the physical world. Simply put, that future starts with better cameras.

UX Design in 2018

Moving into 2018, we’ve pulled together a few UX design concepts to keep an eye on. While this isn’t a full list, it’s a good reminder of what users are coming to expect out of good design.

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Content is King
– Your content must be easy to digest and appealing to view. It must correlate to your brands values and be free of as many distractions as possible.
– Minimalism is a trend that will continue on into 2018 – try to use negative space and a simple navigation to direct consumers to a point of purchase or discovery.

Personalization 
– Machine learning and artificial intelligent algorithms are increasingly allowing us to personalize every aspect of a user’s consumer decision journey.
– Use these technologies to better understand your customers needs, and provide them with personalized solutions. Past commerce/entertainment decisions, digital traits, location and usability are all areas that can be personalized to enhance a consumers UX.
– A great place to start is to employ geotargeting, offering users content that is personalized to their location.

Be creepy, but not too creepy
– There’s a fine line between offering display/social ads to the right audience, and simply retargeting them to no avail. If you employ a digital ad strategy, it has to fit into an individual’s personal journey.
– A great example of this is to connect offline purchases to online digital profiles, therefore ensuring that the person you are messaging is in your target market.

Augmented Reality
– It may seem niche, but it’s going to become a must in any ecommerce strategy.
– “Try before you buy” – Tech savvy users are going to increasingly come to expect that restaurants offer AR services to view their meals before-hand. Using an AR app to shop for clothes will soon makes its way into the new ‘normal’.

Voice & Connected Devices 
– Your UX ecommerce strategy needs to extend beyond the screen, be it mobile or desktop. By 2020, Gartner estimates that 30-50% of all search will be conducted by voice.
– The next wave of SEO tactics will come through voice services from partners such as Amazon and Google. Allowing your consumers to easily find you through these touch points may be the most important trend entering 2018.

Conclusion

To tie it all together, we’ll take it back to a 30,000 ft view. You can’t simply design one aspect of your experience, without thinking of another. Desktop, mobile, app, tablet, voice, content, and experiential tactics all must work hand in hand. Your users should feel comfortable moving from one device to another, without losing any aspect of their experience.

Alexa, How are you going to Monetize?

Here at Epsilon Agency, we constantly try to educate our clients that we are moving towards a day in which advertising to connected and intelligent systems, will be just as important as advertising to individuals. Eventually that will mean that our AI assistants will be able to predict our needs and offer products or solutions that satisfy them. The building blocks of that future are being laid out in the voice assistant space, with Amazon at the helm.

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It was revealed this week that Amazon is in talks with the likes of Proctor & Gamble, Clorox, and other large brands to develop advertising plans to be delivered through Amazon’s line of Echo devices. Forward thinking brands have already set themselves up well for this future, by creating skills that offer utility to users through a voice interface. Others who haven’t yet taken that step, are rightly concerned about the role that search will play in voice commerce.

While voice based commerce is still in its nascent days, we know that consumers are much less likely to skip the first recommendation they’re given compared to if they were browsing on a computer. It’s much easier to scroll past those paid ads and suggestions on a graphical interface. If you currently ask Alexa to buy toothpaste, one of her responses is “Okay, I can look for a brand, like Colgate. What would you like?” To the vast majority of consumers, toothpaste is toothpaste, so Amazon just made the decision of which one you’re going to buy.

Implications

What will Amazon’s ad product look like in the coming years? Well, the tech behemoth is sure to integrate its massive trove of consumer data into the equation. Brands will be able to target users with some of the same capabilities that they do through online ad serving today, however done through a more expressive platform. Developers of popular skills will reap the gains by selling ad space during their experience. Today, these developers and brands are allowed to offer native ads through music, radio, podcasts or flash briefings as well as sponsorship opportunities in commerce based skills.

After that phase, we’re likely to see a paid search product from Amazon, just as Google and other major search engines have today. When this occurs, it will be at a point in time where voice commerce has become normalized. At this junction in time, being front and center when it comes to voice search, could be the difference between a successful brand and a dud.

 

2018 Trend Predictions

My team and I compiled 18 Trends for 2018 and Beyond. We’ve allowed you to check them out in a few ways.

The first being an interactive non-linear video which can be found here or by clicking on the below image.

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Additionally, we’ve expanded on each of those sections in a more comprehensive presentation format which can be downloaded here.

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Magic Leap One – Review and Looking Forward

Industry pundits have long hyped up the future of Augmented Reality, focusing on why the social nature of the technology will give it a leg up against its counterpart, Virtual Reality. The Microsoft Hololens has shown us what is possible, gaining traction in enterprise utilities ranging from design to workplace augmentation,  but the next generation of AR glasses will begin to really set the stage for a systematic shift in human computer interaction.

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The Magic Leap One is the culmination of years of speculation, based solely on rumors and huge investments from the likes of Google, Alibaba and more. The device is dubbed as the “Creator’s Edition” and will aim to give developers something to test out their creations on. Microsoft already has a huge following of developers that are pushing AR forward on the Hololens and Magic Leap realizes they need to do the same to populate the world of AR that users will inhabit.

As far as aesthetics go, the Magic Leap One isn’t the socially acceptable pair of glasses that will come to dominate this market, but it is a step up from previous devices. There are three pieces of hardware that go into the fixture. The headset, utilizing “Digital Lightfield” display technology, a circular pack containing the computing power for said headset – shown to be worn on a users belt, as well as a handheld controller to help with spatial tracking.

The difference between the Magic Leap One and the Hololens can be attributed to the lightfield technology as well as the haptic feadback controller that goes along with it. The result is a more lifelike holographic objects that seamlessly blends into the physical world, with the ability to block real world objects as they move behind them. The haptic feedback controller will enable new forms of interaction and creativity that were not yet possible through the Hololens.

Full scale Augmented Reality, as delivered through these goggles, will disrupt a number of interactions we take for granted today. In the enterprise space, this will allow for computers and monitors to be replaced with virtual screens. Due to Magic Leap’s room-mapping technology, digital objects, like those screens, stay where you put them. If you place four virtual computer screens above your desk, when you return later, they’ll still be there.

Our interactions with these screens will change as well. No longer will our input methods simply be point and click. Sure, those will still exist, in a virtual representation, but we’re likely to see end users interact through voice, gestures, head position and eye tracking. These new input methods will allow for a more robust digital experience, eventually providing a more natural and intuitive way to interact with technology.

The smart glasses will have the ability to ingest more data about your surroundings and interactions than ever before. Cameras and microphones will capture everything you see and hear, as well as all your inputs. While many are rightly skeptical of sharing this amount of data, when used correctly, the result will be a drastically simplified UX and predictive assistance around our daily needs.

In the enterprise space, data visualization and manipulation will move beyond 2D interfaces, allowing data scientists, creatives and more to gain greater insights and a more visual understanding. With the help of an ever present AI assistant, these interactions will only grow stronger and more useful to the end user. Web developers will be able to optimize their experiences for content extraction and spatial browsing, which will enable entirely new ways to shop and explore with 3D objects.

Imagine browsing Amazon, and coming upon a new desk lamp you’d like to buy. However, you’re not entirely sure how it’s going to look on your actual desk. Well, simply grab it out of the virtual screen and place it there. You now have a digital representation of the exact lamp you can then purchase.

There will also be exciting new avenues to explore with regards to gaming and entertainment. The world of games that we know and love will soon mesh, seamlessly, with our physical world, and offer exciting new possibilities. Old school gamers will love the possibility of running through your living room, as it’s digitally optimized to resemble the first level of Super Mario Bros. The freedom that developers will have when creating these gameplay and entertainment scenarios is unlike anything that has come before it.

Implications

While it’s fun and exciting to think of the long term possibilities for Augmented Reality, the reality is that the full capabilities of such devices will not entirely be realized until we get socially acceptable glasses. The need for a separate belt-clipped computer and a remote will drastically reduce the mass acceptance of these devices, but it is a great start and that day will get here sooner rather than later.

For marketers today, it will be important to begin at least looking at the possibility of getting your brands digital presence ready for a world of augmented reality. Begin planning and testing for what type of 3D interactions will translate well from a 2D space. Product mapping, handling, and search are all great areas to start, and can be tested on the AR capabilities of our current smartphones.

Additionally, brands that want to be seen as an innovator can take chances to create experiences that are entirely new. It’s so early in the days of AR, that there is no right or wrong move. Consumers, especially those with access to these devices, will come to see your brand as forward thinking and ready for the future.

Alexa Takes a Step into Consumers Wallets

Amazon took an important step this week in the product lifecycle of its Alexa services by introducing a few new monetization opportunities for developers. Previously, the only way a developer or brand could make money off of an Alexa skill was through Amazon’s Developer Rewards program or by account linking a skill to an existing business model.

The new offerings fall into two categories, In-Skill purchasing and Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills.  In-Skill purchasing is comprised of either a one time purchase or a subscription based purchase, allowing users to acquire premium content or digital subscriptions within various skills.  The Jeopardy! skill is one of the first to be able to test this functionality out, and will offer a subscription service that will double the amount of playable content for users. As a plus for Prime members, Amazon has hinted that many of these services may be free or discounted for that group, with the company making up the difference to developers.

The second offering is the ability for users to pay for goods and services using Amazon Pay in Alexa skills. Previously, these types of purchases required account linking and in most cases, users would have had to make the final purchase on a physical device. Using Amazon Pay, developers will now be able to seamlessly offer options for consumers that could be completed with their previously saved Amazon Pay credentials. One of the first brands to be able to test this out is TGI Fridays, allowing customers to order ahead using only their voice.

Implications

Moving forward, Amazon has laid out four foundational principles that will guide its approach to monetization. The experiences needs to be voice fist, they need to encourage and reward high-quality, engaging skills, the purchasing process needs to familiar and relevant to both parties, and customer trust will remain their top priority.

For brands, these monetization guidelines offer a new way to justify the upfront cost of a skill, as well as increase the importance of having one in the first place. As consumers become accustomed to new purchasing behavior, we’ll begin to see an increase in trust and willingness to convert through these devices. Brands should still look first to offer a form of utility through these services, with monetary incentives being complimentary.

However, the fact that purchasable products and services have now moved beyond the realm of Prime products, will mean that more third parties can now get in on the action – paving the way for entirely new use cases within the Alexa ecosystem.

Ebay joins in on Visual Discovery

Amazon, Google, Pinterest, Wayfair and more have all released some type of visual search and discovery tools in the past year. The premise is simple. Take or find a picture of a product, and the service will analyze it, and return relevant options that can then be bought or shared. Today, Ebay released two new tools that will allow users to interact in that way with their platform.

Going by the names Image Search and Find it on Ebay, both tools employ a form of artificial intelligence software that decrease the friction from discovery to purchase. Image Search allows users to take a photo of a product or use an existing photo, to then shop similar products on Ebay. Find it on Ebay allows users to share a picture to Ebay that they come across on any social platform or while casually browsing the web; subsequently, the mobile app will return similar product recommendations.

With a category of over a billion shop-able products, it’s a smart move for Ebay to take every step necessary to ensure that consumers can easily find what they’re looking for. While visual discovery is a relatively new trend, tools like the Google Lens which will increasingly be rolled out to more and more devices, will bring this type of functionality into the mainstream in the next year.

Implications

As users discover the simplicity that Visual Discovery brings to their shopping experience, they will come to expect that functionality to be integrated into all of their services. Search is quickly evolving from text based to a combination of voice and visual based access. Brands need to determine how best to employ these technologies, in order to keep their consumer base happy.

Additionally, these technologies are reducing the friction involved in comparison shopping while in a physical retail store. Now that a user can pull out their phone, take a picture, and receive complimentary options and details about said product, brand marketers will increasingly find it necessary to take that information into account when creating copy and online product info. It’s important to get out ahead of this trend, so as to be ready for entirely new forms of consumer interaction.