Thoughts on the Apple event of September 7

Style

  • The presentation was telling a hard story to an audience that were likely to be underwhelmed. Phil Schiller rather than Tim Cook carried the most difficult parts of the keynote.
  • The piano finish device was an obvious attempt to provide a style angle to the new iPhone and mask the aerial sections. However it is a class action waiting to happen as it will dull over time with micro-scratches
  • The story that the audience was told didn’t feel right. Lets talk about the headphone jack. The double camera only appears in the Plus, so the requirement for room isn’t a credible argument on its own, other vendors have managed to waterproof handsets with headphone jacks. I suspect that Apple isn’t sure that its backing the right horse. Its the least aggressive change they’ve made in a while. The inclusion of an adaptor shows that their user aggression still isn’t as high compared to when they got rid of: SCSI, Apple Desktop Bus (ADB), iPod 30 pin port (still pissed about that one), AppleTalk, floppy disks or optical disk playback and storage – I suspect that they are fearfully waiting to see what the pre-order numbers will be like and they should be. A straw poll of AdAge readers (core Apple user demographic) showed overwhelming disappointment
    AdAge readers on new iPhone
  • There is a lot of really nice features in iOS 10 – I’ve been using it for a while, why didn’t they make more of this and macOS Sierra?

Substance

  • Innovation in the smartphone category has flattened out. The iPhone 7 provides reasons for laggard iPhone users to upgrade, but nothing for 6 and 6S series users. There are few if any innovations for the likes of Huawei to ape in their new models
  • Innovation in smartwatches has plateaued. Apple is coalescing around fitness and dedicated products are much more cost effective for consumers. In China Xiaomi’s fitness band sells for about £15, for many consumers it would be enough. Fitbit is doing well – Apple’s wrist computer (alongside Samsung Gear etc) looks like a sledgehammer to crack a nut
  • Apple have done nothing to address the latent demand for new laptops amongst consumers (I am still happy with my 13″ Retina MacBook Pro). There was no replacement for the Cinema display (again, I am happy with my current set-up, but where is the pro-user love)
  • Apple abandoned its flirtation with luxury by discontinuing the gold Watch. They are still holding out to be viewed as stylish by doubling down with Hermes and a white ceramic device – it would work on the opposite wrist to a Chanel J12
  • It was curious that Apple moved away from talking about security and privacy; the collaborative document working using iWork which could be seen as a potential attack vector on to the desktop. The Air Pods that sync seamlessly with a device without visible security precautions.  iPhone security was addressed in the James Corden car karaoke skit at the beginning of the show rather than woven through the materials.
  • The speech about the app store was to try and bolster developer support, I suspect that services will shore up the Apple financial numbers over the next 12 months
  • The Nike branded Apple Watch was part of a broader move reposition the Apple Watch 2 as a fitness device.

Brandwatch on luxury brands

Not the most polished presentation but good content by Brandwatch on the state of digital and social with regards luxury brands.

More about Brandwatch here.

#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London

Having been involved in a number of events over the past couple of years where creative digital work intersected with experiential marketing I was keen to look at Louis Vuitton’s Series 3 exhibition before it closed.

Burberry tends to get the plaudits for digital experiences in the luxury sector and they do a lot of interesting work. Louis Vuitton’s initiatives like an online service that allows ladies to personalise their bag a la Nike ID.

I found it interesting that Louis Vuitton’s approach seems to have been guided by exclusivity not being the same as accessibility. There was a wealth of helpful staff, you were positively encouraged to take your own pictures – again unusual for a luxury brand, many prefer to give you content that upholds their standards.

A few touches that I really liked

#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, LondonLV logo motion graphics at the start of the exhibition, no real surprise right? What the designers did was remove the polarisers from the LCD screens so that the screens are apparently blank. The polariser is laid out in vertical strips at different distances and widths from the screen. This gives a kind of lenticular effect when you walk past it. This modern logo morphs through matrix-like digital noise and on to the more traditional LV design.
#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London
It seems absurdly simple, but the idea of using projecting mapping techniques on a flat LED screen to emphasise how Louis Vuitton products are cut from a common material before being assembled was clever. Just because you have projection mapping technology at your finger tips means that one often looks for complex shapes like building fronts rather than a flat panel.
#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London
Getting the balance right between protecting the product so that it doesn’t look grubby from being over-handled, whilst still making it accessible and tactile rather than a museum experience.

The street finds its own uses for things, but sometimes it needs a hand

The office that I work in is mired in mobile. Half the colleagues that sit in my area have gone to Barcelona this week to work on the Mobile World Congress. What used to be an conference that helped mobile carriers come together and set the agenda for their industry has become a curious jamboree that mixes areas of interest to consumers, policy wonks and a bit of telecoms industry stuff thrown in. Others have fretted about the usefulness of the show, I recommend that you have a quick read of my friend Ian Wood’s show analysis.

I have been writing a summary of themes that we have been seeing coming out of the coverage day-by-day. I have linked to them at the end of this article. From a consumer perspective online discussion, if not media chatter was dominated by the launch of new smartphones across the Android eco-system and Microsoft launched some new Lumia smartphones running its Windows operating system.
pr
When I pulled the data down on the discussion using Sysomos, I found discussions on smartphones seemed to be based around hardware ‘speeds and feeds’. Rather like the PC industry, and like the PC industry many of those manufacturers are hurting as new competitors come in and innovate through protest to create cheaper handsets without compromising on industrial design.

There is a strong incentive for handset manufacturers to own some kind of eco-system. Canon may or may not own the OS that runs their digital SLR cameras, but you don’t just buy a camera from them you buy a system that includes lens, possibly a flash and other miscellaneous accessories. Google rolled out a software layer to cover a vast array of platforms which could interact with smartphones, from wearables to the internet-of-things and even the television set.

This means that there is a strong incentive for phone makers to move their product portfolios in new direction. Chinese brand Xiaomi expanded from smartphones to make: smart televisions, an IP-based set-top box, a Nike Fuelband-type device, a smartphone-controlled air purifier and a GoPro-type camera.

For many other manufacturers this means smart watches or fitness bands as their counterpart of Canon’s EF-series lenses.
Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Like many technology ideas smartphones have gone through a number of iterations. In the 1980s Seiko tried to bring personal computing to the digital watch and by 1984, Casio had launched the Data Bank – a kind of rather poor digital address book on a phone. By 1994, Timex used a light sensor and blinking monitor pixels to send information from Microsoft Schedule+ to their watch, as a way of making data input easier than the Casio Databank. Schedule+ was the predecessor of the calendaring function in modern versions of Outlook.

Some twenty years later both battery and microprocessor technology had improved. Microsoft launched a radio network based service in the US called MSN Direct which provided the kind of information web users got from a portal like horoscopes, sports results, news or stock prices to non-Internet connected devices. Depending on the device you could even receive short messages from Windows Live Messenger (SMS wasn’t as popular in the US in comparison to Europe at the time). In order to take advantage of MSN Direct services Microsoft launched Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) which allowed MSN Direct data to be incorporated into everyday consumer electronics like satellite navigation systems, coffee machines and watches.

A good set of comparative technologies for SPOT and MSN Direct would be RDS information on the FM band of car stereos or a very cut down version of the teletext experiences from analogue TV, if it only delivered nuggets of information. The underlying network technology to transmit the information allowed for a higher data bandwidth than RDS.

Around the same time as SPOT, Fossil licensed a read-only version of PalmOS and tried to squeeze it into a watch. This was most noticeable for putting a higher end LCD screen into a watch than had been done before. The case was also curiously similar in design to later watches from LG and Samsung.

Back in 2008, devices were launched that looked suspiciously like the latest smart watches. These were pioneered by LG with their Watch Phone.
LG Watch Phone
In the same way that Star Trek’s communicator was the obvious popular culture analogue for flip phones; cartoon detective Dick Tracy’s watch radio was to the LG Watch Phone. The challenge has been that whilst the Dick Tracy analogue emphasise the impressive engineering feats that rendered the watch possible it doesn’t show a particularly impressive use case.

Lets first of all dwell on the engineering chops that went into these devices. It is insanely impressive. Thanks to marketing and Steve Jobs we blithely expect technology companies to work miracles as a matter of routine, but when you take a step back and think about the hardware engineering it is very impressive. Moore’s Law has meant that a tremendous amount of computing power can now sit on your wrist without burning a hole in it. Nuclear deterrent systems and space exploration programmes around the world have previously relied on less computing power.

However the Dick Tracy use case of holding your wrist to your head looks plain uncomfortable. By comparison, we could see James T. Kirk and the rest of the Star Trek crew use the communicator in a natural way day-in, and day-out.

A second challenge is presenting a reason for using a smart watch. If one looks back at early Apple iPhone advertisements, they at pains to emphasise everything that can be done on an iPhone.
iphone
For those device makers that have abdicated their software responsibility to Google, they are largely in the hands of Google’s developer evangelist and marketing teams. From what I have seen of Apple’s marketing, there seems to be a focus on the watch as a fashion icon, in an eerily reminiscent move of Google Glass’ assocation with Diane von Fürstenberg and thats a bit of a concern if you are looking at the current generation of wearables from a consumer perspective.

There are some businesses that have been built on high-performing but impractical products. Lamborghini’s iconic Miura was developed by a team of three core engineers on the down low, keeping the innovative design hidden from company owner Ferruccio Lamborghini. Mr Lamborghini was more interested in a grand tourer than this race car for the road, but he saw the potential for the design to be a marketing tool for the car brand at best.
LAMBORGHINI MIURA
The Miura incorporated a number of innovative features that together provided the blueprint for the modern supercar. It had an engine in the middle of the car to improve the weight balance. A similar layout had been used in an Austrian car maker called Rumpler back in the 1920s and over the next 20 years started to appear in a number of race cars. Shortening the car by mounting the engine in a transverse (side-to-side) layout that had been pioneered in small road cars like the Saab 92 and Mini.

The design started winning interest from potential customers without even a body because of its unique layout. Bertone provided the body work and the car went on sale. Over the next eight years or so Lamborghini struggled to deal with the failings in the cars design. It had too powerful an engine, a chassis that flexed under the power and brakes that weren’t up to the job of stopping the car. Whilst the Miura was successful in terms of the impact that it had on the world Ferruccio sold the majority share in his name sake company by the early 1970s. The company suffered from financial problems that meant it had to stop production for a year before it could bring out the Contach.

The moral of this automotive story for gadget manufacturers is that innovation can spark interest with a certain number of consumers but it is consumer use that will drive continued sustainable adoption. There has to be a use in order to get the devices into the hands of the tinkerers and hackers who find unexpected uses implied in William Gibson’s oft quoted line from the short story Burning Chrome – ‘the street finds its own uses for things’.

More information

On MWC as an event
GSMA Mobile World Congress 2015 | Digital Evangelist

MSN Direct / SPOT
What Microsoft got right about the smart watch nearly a decade ago (more than you think) – GigaOM

Samsung Galaxy Gear
Samsung Gear S Review: But I Don’t Wanna Be Dick Tracy | Gizmodo

My posts on the Racepoint blog
MWC from the sidelines: day one
MWC from the sidelines: day zero

On wearables

The Apple Watch launch gave me a chance to go back and revisit the development of wearable computing and my experience with wearable devices.

Wearable computing had it’s genesis in academic research; some of it government funded. For instance DARPA had a hand in the US Army Land Warrior programme. France has it’s FÉLIN programme and Germany IdZ. All the programmes sought to provide soldiers with location data  and in communication with their colleagues.  Unsurprising  key issues for the soldiers involved included:

  • Weight
  • How cumbersome the equipment was
  • Battery life
  • Reliability / robust product design
  • Value of information provided

It is worth bearing in mind these criteria when thinking about wearables in a consumer context.  SonyEricsson’s LiveView remote control for Android handsets launched the current spurt in ‘smart’ watches. Sony made a deliberate decision to position the LiveView as an augmentation to the smartphone. Think of it as a thin client for your wrist.

Samsung and Apple in some of their communications have looked to muddy the water in the way that they presented their devices, despite the fact that both of them rely on the smartphone  in a slightly more sophisticated way than LiveView.

Much of the early drive in wearables has been around health and fitness where the likes of Nike and Jawbone reinvented the kind of service provided to dedicated fitness enthusiasts by the likes of Polar and Suunto. These devices are primarily about simplification of design to democratise the technology.

By contrast Samsung and Apple have a greater ambition for their devices in terms of the what they can do. I don’t know what the killer app is for a general purpose device and I suspect neither do Apple or Samsung.

Wearables are not particularly robust by design. I have had three Nike Fuelbands fail in 12 months or so. Compare this to the Casio G-Shock and IWC watches that I generally wear. I don’t have to think about wearing my watch; I didn’t worry about washing my hands or stepping in the shower or the swimming pool with it on. You couldn’t do that with a Samsung Gear.

A second unknown factor is how often consumers would be willing to upgrade a smart watch? When one thinks about the expected price point of Apple’s premium watches, it is similar to the products coming out of Switzerland. The cases and straps are well made, but the price of buying an Omega watch is also about buying into a service centre that will keep the watch going for decades to come. Apple’s iPod Classic barely lasted 13 years. The electronic innards of an iWatch would be built from components that would become obsolete, even if Apple wanted to service them.

Would Apple compromise with a modular design that could make it easy to swap out smart watch innards in a case as an analogy to having a watch serviced? I don’t think so, if one looks at Apple’s design move over the past decade towards sealed computing appliances: the iPod, the iPhone, the MacBook Air and the Retina MacBook.

More information
FÉLIN | Army Technology
SonyEricsson LiveView remote and the changing face of mobile computing | renaissance chambara

The Watch post

I was underwhelmed by the Apple wearable product. It is impressive what they have done, but from a product design point of view the case looks cumbersome rather like a slightly better Samsung Gear. The use of haptics was one of the smarter things that I saw in the demonstration and the use of emoji as an essential ‘social lubricant’ learns from Asian mobile usage of stickers on the likes of LINE and WeChat.

Looking at the demonstrations, I still think that the use case for a wearable still isn’t there for mainstream consumers. The use cases for haptic communications for instance were downright creepy and I wasn’t convinced by the cloud of spots interface. The fitness app and workout apps were similar to products from the likes of Suunto and Polar or the miCoach app by adidas for a smartphone.

In terms of the industrial design, I was particularly interested in the strap. Apple has borrowed a distinctive looking catch and strap connector  from one of the strap designs from the now defunct Ikepod Watch company co-founded by Marc Newson who recently joined Apple’s design team.

Ikepod Megapod strap
ikepod

 Watch strap
applewatch

Overall I think that luxury brands won’t be particularly concerned, at least at this first iteration of the  Watch.

Jacob & Co. Epic SF24

Jacob & Co. is a brand that I knew of through it’s connection to hip-hop culture. They are referenced in the lyrics of 50Cent, Jay Z and Kanye West. The brand is positioning itself with more conventional luxury customers with a mix of high-end jewellery and watches. They had a recent exhibition in Monaco of their latest range on August 5 – 23, 2014.

Whilst none where something I would normally pay attention to; the most visually interesting watch they came out with was the EPIC SF 24 which had an unusual take on creating a world time display. The top is a 24-hour time indicator that seems to flip around like an electromechanical airport or railway station sign giving the watch a steam punk vibe.
Epic SF24
Some of the other details like the crown on the side of the watch reminded me a little of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Master Compressor series, but with a more practical lower profile that would avoid snagging whilst on the wrist. The movement is said to be a JCAA02 with SF24 module; I don’t know whether the movement is in-house designed; or more likely, a modified version of an existing movement by one of the big movement manufacturers like ETA.

It comes in a number of types of gold and titanium – an interesting choice given the challenges working with the metal.

More information
Jacob & Co. website profile page for the Epic SF24
Jacob & Co. Annual Timepice And Jewelry Exhibition In Monte Carlo | Cision

China’s post-90s generation and luxury marketing

My former colleague Elin and a panel of experts discuss marketing luxury brands to a young Chinese audience. How they view luxury in comparison to previous generations.

Post-90s middle class are the most sophisticated consumers marketers have faced in China today.

Garnier’s PS Cream campaign

A really nice campaign done in China for Garnier beauty product

Great presentation on the online advertising environment in China

Great presentation by Thoughtful China about the online advertising market in China, the discussion comes from the perspective of ‘big data’ but points out the challenge of data quality and transparency in online advertising.

The presentation is on YouKu so you need to be patient with it.

QRcodes in luxury marketing | 在奢侈品营销中的QR码

QRcodes give advertisers the opportunities to be creative in the ‘noise’ through minimising the data enclosed (for instance using a URL shortener) and careful positioning of the data within the square.
Untitled
Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger LeCoultre uses some carefully placed watch components in their QRcode and the complexity of QRcodes to human eyes (rather like the visual complexity of a watch movement). It was a subtle understated modification of a QRcode that fitted right in with the brand.

More information
Want to build a creative QRcode? QArt Coder is a good place to start

Jargon Watch: Meta-luxury

The decline of the middle in terms of brands has mirrored a global decline in the middle class. This has prompted brands to move up the food chain. We have seen this in Japan as the country moved over the past two decades from consuming a lot of luxury goods by the likes of Louis Vuitton to homegrown companies providing the best of everything from Michelin-star restaurants and gourmet coffee shops to meticulously constructed street wear.

Interbrand defines meta-luxury as

luxury after luxury

Or as Venessa Friedman distilled it down:

focus+artisan-ship+ history+ rarity = meta-luxury

The key attribute here is one of focus. It doesn’t really surprise me when you think about how luxury brands like Armani have grown from tailoring to:

  • More accessible sub-brands
  • Promiscuous licensing deals
  • Affordable luxury product categories – notably fragrances
  • Broadening brand reach including hotel design, homewares and florists

The increased accessibility of luxury brands and  dilution of their brand equity through business expansion leaves room for meta luxury businesses.

More information
Introducing Meta-luxury – FT.com

The London Fashion Week post: Five hidden social media gems of fashion brands #LFW

Whilst former football hooligan favourite Burberry gets a lot of kudos for its work using Facebook for brand engagement, I think that there are other fashion and luxury brands doing possibly smarter, and certainly more targeted narrowcast social media work. Here are five of them:

  1. Whilst Louis Vuitton’s adverts make me feel queasy with their odd positioning with the likes of Bono, Mikael Gorbachev and Angelina Jolie with the gaudy holdall woven into awkward-looking photo-shoots, LV have been much smarter in their use of location services; notably Foursquare and Chinese counterpart Jiepang. Louis Vuitton uses it very carefully to curate a Louis Vuitton life and encourage store engagement. Recommendations for London include the Southbank Centre, Connaught Hotel and the Fifth Floor restaurant at Harvey Nichols. This is also likely to filter out all about the most ardent hangers on
  2. Comptoir des Cotonniers (CDC) have a blog with a distinctly homespun look and feel that talks about brand news coverage and the kind of things that influence them. There is a playlist module of saccharin soul on the left-hand side of the page. Even if you can’t use Google Translate to get a feel of what the French language content is about you, can tell by the kind of imagery that accompanies the posts
  3. In a similar vein, Sir Paul Smith has a personal blog that acts as the voice for his fashion brand. It doesn’t give you a sense of their collection but does give a strong sense of who or what Paul Smith the brand actually is. He has a good eye for curating interesting and eclectic imagery and the site feels like it wasn’t pulled together by an intern
  4. At the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of production values is Dunhill; despite the site using Amazon Web Services as a content delivery network this can be a beast to load down anything but the fattest broadband pipe. Their Day 8 section of the site sits somewhere between a magazine and a blog and is stuffed with a range of quality thought-provoking content. Interestingly it hasn’t been updated in the past 80 days. They do publish Day 8 as an iPad application, but it would have been nice if there was an RSS feed for the content, being a busy person I don’t have time to fanny around. If I was the publisher of Esquire magazine I would have a good look at Day 8; as this is what quality men’s interest content feels like
  5. Whilst lots of different fashion houses have used live video to extend the audience of their runway shows (primarily spurred on by trying to crack the massive Chinese market) most of them require you to watch the show from in front of your computer. If you are getting hold of the kind of money it takes to shop with these brands; time in front of your computer is likely to be time wasted. Menswear fashion brand Ermenegildo Zegna put it on an iPhone application so you can follow the show whilst waiting for a flight or traveling to a business meeting in a taxi; if you like what you see you can even buy some of the items in-application. Previously this kind of mobile content | m-commerce integration had only been seen in more mainstream brands like Tokyo Girls Collection. Rather than create their own social content on the Zegna site they have started to have fashion bloggers create their own Zegna looks and ‘guest post’ on the Zegna site. Again no RSS though

Brand overexposure: The North Face versus Nike

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about how Nike and Footlocker maximised revenue from the Jordan franchise through careful timing of limited product releases.

Contrast this with The North Face. Below is a Korean blog post that compares North Face winter coats with different types of high school students as the brand has become so ubiquitous in South Korean school yards and on the backs of consumers during the winter months.

The bottom of the blog post goes on to compare The North Face with the duffle coats worn by previous generation of school children in a mocking way.

it is as much the winter uniform of the Korean salary man as his tie.

The North Face sees itself as a technical brand rather than a true luxury brand, but the vast majority of its jackets don’t see the mountains and ski slopes for which they were originally designed. It has begun to treat itself as a premium brand with its purple label retro designs and different fabrics like Harris Tweed – currently exclusive to the Japanese market. But how can this be maintained if the brand becomes this overexposed?

It is not a corner that it can easily get out of and technical innovation in the clothing design will be of limited use.

North Face overexposure