Name an industry that hasn’t been changed by tech. I’ve been sitting here for the past twenty minutes trying to think of one, and I haven’t been able come up with anything. Even linguistics aren’t immune – the preface “smart” is even more pervasive than “HD” was in the late 00’s and early 10’s. Smartphones, smartwatches, smartTVs, smart locks, smart cars, Smart Water, smart homes…
The tech sector has never been stronger (when weighing its economic and cultural impact both) – and yet, the next few years may just be the end of it. Not because companies like Amazon are a trend that will fizzle out as predicted by economists in the early 00’s, but because companies like Amazon aren’t just online retailers anymore. Google isn’t just a search engine for the web – it’s a search engine for everything.
Soon (given the current rate of innovation), the tech sector will cease to exist because it won’t just be a sector, but rather the economy itself.
The user experience
The melding of the tech sector with other industries has been both sudden and violent, and yet intrinsic to the success of the current leaders of the economy today. Just as other industries benefit from the inclusion of tech, so to does tech benefit from partnering with those industries; it’s the natural avenue of progression for tech’s growth.
Surface features, like refrigerators and mirrors enhanced with LCD screens that tell you the weather is an obvious inclusion of tech – but these changes are superficial. The screen on your refrigerator isn’t the end game – it’s part of a system that’s been in the making for the past decade.
The overarching theme in any user-facing software is to provide good UX by focusing on solving a pain point with an easy to use tool that takes the stress out of solving the user’s problem. No one was ever asking to check stocks in the bathroom mirror – but they were showing companies (by the products they purchase) that they like universal services.
When smartphones went from something everyone wanted to something everyone had, mobile traffic very rapidly took over half the share of internet usage, and is now the leading source of all internet traffic.
This wasn’t because there was a new device with a screen on it, it’s because people wanted to use the internet everywhere, and all of a sudden, they could. We just happen to spend a lot of our day not in front of a desktop, laptop or tablet – and when you’re standing in front of the mirror combing your hair, or opening the fridge to grab a snack, your hands are usually occupied. No one appreciates a weather-telling refrigerator, but they do appreciate one that gives them the ability to continue taking in visual information while interacting with their Google Assistant, or Alexa, or HomePod, or whatever name Facebook will come up with, when their hands are otherwise occupied.
There’s a comforting feeling you get (at least I do) when using tech to solve problems, due to the user experience that’s been baked in since the dawn of the internet.
Yesterday, when chatting with a Grubhub customer service representative, I noticed something; I didn’t feel the usual anxiety of talking over a phone. If they didn’t have a chat feature, I probably wouldn’t have even communicated the issue I had with their service – I wasn’t as much dissatisfied as I was confused, and the interaction over the phone wouldn’t have been worth the emotional investment – but the interaction I had with Grubhub through the chat feature ended up increasing my brand loyalty by providing customer service through a channel I preferred.
Companies are always looking for new ways to communicate with their customers – especially those that provide a service. Tech has the added benefit (and upper hand) of it’s main point of interaction remaining with the customer at all times.
This is why Amazon can afford to open up physical book stores and buy out Whole Foods. Why Google is entering the video game industry with the Stadia – because they’re better built to work within the still emerging digital economy, and like water, economic growth will seek the path of least resistance – and for tech, that direction is towards home services and beyond.
The new vertical integration
Tesla might be a car company – but they don’t just make cars. They write auto-pilot software, build batteries and energy storage facilities, and supply the charging stations that keep their cars running. But this is the usual, time-honored vertical integration we all know.
Google and Amazon are competing to provide both customers and companies with fully integrated customer acquisition funnels. Customers can use their Alexa or Google Home to find a company that provides a service, while companies can use ad platforms provided by Google and Amazon to reach the customers. Google and Amazon provide the cloud storage the other companies use to host their website and app, provide the analytics of their platforms’ user acquisition, and provide companies with customers’ data.
Amazon buys food, sells that food in a physical location and through a digital platform, handles the transportation of the food (from either factory-to-store, or store-to-customer), and uses the data from what the customer bought to sell to advertisers and create more pertinent targeted ads.
Google will give users the ability to control almost every aspect of their home; through Google Home, you’ll be able to find and book, for example, a furnace repair service, without worrying if you’ll even be there. Your Google Home could use the porch camera to verify the technician was their at the scheduled time, open the smart locks, and record the entire visit.
Tech has evolved
It isn’t web dev or apps or blockchain or VR – tech is rapidly becoming the way we want to interact with everything. The words “user” and “customer” have almost become synonymous, and as such, brands are expected to provide a user experience that is unique, searchable, and unified within the system that is the internet of things. Companies like Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple all stand to benefit greatly from the coming customer acquisition revolution.