Holiday Buzz1 Dec, 2013 By: Nicole Urso Reed Response
From smartphones and home entertainment, to thermostats and interior lighting, consumer electronics — and the marketers behind them — are getting smarter.
From home entertainment to home improvement, the latest consumer electronics creating buzz this holiday season are ones that sync, streamline and simplify everyday tasks so that users spend more time doing what it is they want to do without the frustration of laboring over technical details.
Anyone who has struggled with an eReader — or assisted friends and family with one — will appreciate the new Mayday button on Amazon’s latest Kindle Fire HDX, an interactive customer service feature that connects users with a live tech representative in the video chat window. The advisor cannot see customers, but they can take control of the system and draw on the screen to visually assist them. The Kindle Fire HDX starts at $299 for 16 GB, which is not much memory to download movies in high definition, but CNET editors call it a “performance monster that speeds through websites and UI pages at a frantic pace,” and they give it four out of five stars for overall performance and price.
Microsoft continues to go head-to-head with Apple products, and calls them out directly in recent ad campaigns. In one commercial, Microsoft uses a parody of Apple’s Siri voice to comment on several tasks she cannot do when side by side with a Windows 8 Tablet that can. In another commercial for the Windows Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone, an auditorium full of parents watching their kids in a recital elbow their way closer to the stage to get a good picture. One of the moms uses her iPhone 5s to take a photo, and a dad standing next to her says, “2007 called. It wants its camera phone back.”
Likewise, Samsung’s popular Galaxy S4 smartphone has been hard at work converting Apple loyalists, but the latest iPhone 5s impressed fans with its stronger, faster system and Touch ID, a fingerprint identity sensor.
“Your fingerprint is the perfect password,” Apple states in the iPhone 5s product specs. “You always have it with you. And no one can ever guess what it is. But beyond that, it just made sense to us that your phone should recognize you. It should learn you. Not require you to memorize and enter passwords in order to use it. We also knew the right place to locate the sensor was where you naturally touch your iPhone — on the Home button.”
Apple also debuted its new iPad Air in time for the holidays. The sleek, one-pound frame is twice as powerful with two times faster Wi-Fi performance, and it has more built-in productivity apps, without sacrificing battery life.
Samsung, Sony and Panasonic are still top choices when it comes to high-definition smart TVs with built in Wi-Fi and apps that provide better ways to explore and discover content and access it from Web-based providers, such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. Prices for HD smart TVs continue to drop as consumers upgrade to Ultra HD, also known as 4K TV or 4,000p, which is roughly four times higher resolution than the current HD standard of 1080p. Sony’s PlayStation 4, hitting the market this fall, will include support for playing Ultra HD video, and according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), “Internet delivery of Ultra HD content is already feasible. Higher-end broadband service plans from U.S. Internet service providers are generally fast enough to support Ultra HD streaming delivery.”
The first 8K TVs have already cropped up at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, and more are expected at the 2014 event next month.
With the rapid development of technology and the incessant upgrading of personal electronics, consumers have grown wary of investing in fleeting trends and are making smarter decisions about what features best suit their needs and lifestyle. Many new digital products for the home are going beyond the entertainment center and creating convenience in everyday tasks, from vacuuming with the robotic Roomba to saving on the energy bill with the digital thermostat Nest.
“We just released an infomercial for a product at Lowe’s called the Iris — a connected home system,” says Doug Garnett, president of Portland. Ore.-based Atomic Direct.
The 30-minute long-form DRTV ad, released in October, demonstrates the functionality and convenience of the home-monitoring system, a central hub for smart devices that controls various elements in the home, such as climate, lighting, security alarms and door locks, providing access to all of them through a single, easy-to-use Iris smartphone app.
Garnett, a member of the Response Advisory Board, specializes in marketing consumer electronics and home improvement tools, such as the DRTV hit Drill Doctor, and sees the convergence of these two categories heating up in coming months. He also believes that as more digital home devices hit the market, long-form DRTV will be incredibly beneficial for companies that not only want to introduce new technology, but demonstrate how it will impact everyday life.
“It’s a classic case where there’s a desperate need for long-form communication because it’s such a new idea to people,” says Garnett. “As you can imagine, most people have looked at stuff like this and figured it’s a ‘Street of Dreams’ kind of deal.”
Street of Dreams is an annual home tour event in Portland that features about 10 houses with state-of-the-art construction and amenities that represent the future of home design. But with many of these new digital home devices available and in stores now, Garnett says that a little confidence is often the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of many consumers actually buying them.
“There’s a little hurdle getting people to say, ‘I can do this. Yeah I get it. I know where I want to put motion sensors, and I can trust technology to be safe and reliable,’” says Garnett.
Yes You Can
Brian Lake, owner of Los Angeles-based Lake Automation, customizes and installs entertainment systems that run the gamut from small home theaters to sports bar setups with wall-to-wall flat screens and surround sound. But when it comes to home audio systems, his personal favorite is Sonos, which he enjoys in his own home. Lake joined Sonos’ network of preferred dealers who help set up the products in consumers’ homes, and although there are more expensive options that he could recommend that would require more elaborate and costly installation, if customers ask for top quality sound that’s simple to use and easy to install, he points them to Sonos.
“It’s a great option for around a $2,000 home theater,” says Lake. “Traditional theaters — just the audio — would cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. This can be done for a tech savvy do-it-yourselfer for less than $3,000 ... all the speakers, they’re all powered, and you don’t have to run any wires or anything. It’s super easy to set up.”
Sonos recently introduced the Playbar, a TV audio speaker that, when paired with rear speakers and a subwoofer creates the total home theater experience that “would just blow the roof off,” says Lake. The speakers also sync up to existing music libraries and alternate between TV audio and playing music from iTunes, Spotify, Pandora or any other connected music source.
Lake is also a fan of the Nest digital thermostat, which users control remotely with the Nest app, and the new Nest smoke and carbon monoxide detector. Like Sonos, the ease of use, convenience and quality are what impress him most.
Another recommendation for the holidays is the Philips Hue lightbulb.
“Philips came out with a controllable bulb,” says Lake. “So with traditional systems, you have to switch out the dimmers. This takes out all of the guesswork and you literally unscrew the old bulb, put in a Phillips Hue bulb, and then you can control it with your iPhone, Android or iPad.”
Each bulb uses 80-percent less power than a traditional light bulb and is connected wirelessly using the Hue bridge. Using the Philips Hue app, users can adjust the range of white light from warm to cold or switch it to color. The app can be used to turn them off and on, to dim them or to set them to a timer. Each bulb is $60, and Apple sells a starter kit for $199, which includes three bulbs and the Hue bridge.
“People spend so much money on bulbs just to get a certain color,” says Lake. “Here you can change the color depending on your mood. You can get a very bright white light, or you can have a relaxing yellow tone. It’s really cool. And it’s all through the touch of a button on your app.”
Internet of Things
The concept of blending the digital and physical worlds is an ongoing trend often referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), but experts say that the latest connected devices only hint of what will come in the next few years.
“We are shifting from an environment of taking action to one in which we are acted upon,” Shawn G. DuBravac, chief economist and senior director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), writes in “A Hundred Billion Nodes,” an article within the CEA’s 5 Technology Trends to Watch 2014 report. “For example, Google Now prompts you when it is time to leave for a meeting across town based on traffic and time to your destination.”
Eventually, billions of sensors everywhere, such as Touch ID in the new iPhone 5s, will identify and learn consumer behavior and preferences. According to the same report, Cisco predicts that the number of connected things will grow from 15 to 25 billion by 2015 and then to 40 or 50 billion by 2020.
With all of the opportunity and added convenience that emerging technology brings, Garnett believes that the role of direct marketing should demonstrate how the products impact daily life versus explaining how the technology works.
“A lot of times you don’t realize what you’re missing until you can envision what the technology can do for you,” says Garnett. “When the first smartphones came out, people didn’t realize how dramatically these devices would change their lives. Now imagine how much time we spend on our phones.”
However, he says that there is still a disconnect between a lot of home electronics companies and traditional media.
“They’re only looking at digital and social media, not realizing that what they’re missing out on is the power of something like an infomercial to take their business from being OK and nice to just stunningly powerful,” says Garnett.
Looking back on digital trends during the past few years, many would argue that while QR codes still have some lasting benefits, and they are part of the sensor evolution, the open-source technology was poorly executed by too many advertisers and consumers were often disappointed by terrible experiences.
In a future where the line between digital and physical continues to fade, marketers will have to provide positive experiences for customers wherever they are and however they interact with a product or retail environment.
For the holidays this year, Macy’s mobile app will become a digital personal assistant to help holiday shoppers plan their visit and navigate when inside stores. Beginning on November 21, app users were able to access Black Friday sales and create customized shopping lists that can be shared with friends.
“To the consumer, it’s all one channel,” says Garnett. “They’re buying products. They’re spending time online, going to the store, and for the consumers, those boundaries don’t exist anymore.” ■