Every once in a while, I think of popular ideas in terms of “What would VH1 do with it?” I wonder that when the cable channel eventually does its I Love the 2010s show, how will they look at things we find worth our time today? And, of course, it’s real easy to do that with tech, especially wearables. I mean, if our future is indeed continued human-small device interaction (and that is arguable), wearables seem inevitable. But it seems real easy for pop culture comedians to make fun of how we do it these days: strapping sensors on our wrists.

There are a few ways to approach this idea with skepticism. First, that the data is even that valuable. Does my sleep patterns, steps taken, and heartbeat over weeks, months, or years matter that much? Certainly in the doctor’s office, they spend the least amount of time on my pulse and are fine with single-word answers to their question, “How are you sleeping?”. Again, continuing in that skeptical vein, it’s real easy to paint these health-tracking wearables as a way for device makers who’ve hit the wall on phone technology to sell us something new.

But a bigger problem that is becoming more and more talked about is the accuracy of these devices in the first place. Like this recent MIT Technology Review piece:

Results varied, and sometimes they varied a lot. The [Microsoft] Band’s average heart-rate measurements were consistently closer to the results of the Polar chest strap—sometimes within a beat or two per minute, but they could be as many as 13 beats off. The Apple Watch, meanwhile, gave readings as many as 77 beats per minute different from the Polar device. Measurements of calories burned (something all three bands, including the Up3, track) were also somewhat inconsistent; on one morning commute, for instance, they ranged from 143 to 187.

And it’s not a rare view. The doubt is happening everywhere, enough so that these fitness device makers are already spinning it, that it’s not about accuracy, it’s about health engagement.

Even analysts are jumping in on the doubt-fest:

Global research and advisory firm Forrester Research thinks that wearables will go the way of ”the Flip camera or the single-purpose e-reader,” according to Re/Code, meaning they will grow in popularity for a few years before petering out. While some technology, like smartphones, are able to gain true ubiquity, some believe that wearable tech is not likely to do the same.

The problems with these health-tracking wearables is manifold, that they are mass-marketed devices for people who aren’t mass-marketed, that the range of data they can track is too tiny to deliver any worthwhile conclusions about our overall health, that the technology just isn’t there yet for any meaningful data.

So, basically, the chances of an aging Hal Sparks comparing Fitbit to the copper bracelets of yore seems more and more like how it’ll go.

Photo credit: TeppoTK

A couple of weeks ago we discussed Google Cardboard, that clever, inexpensive way to get virtual reality (VR) into the hands of the masses and into massive acceptance.

The one thing we didn’t discuss was, “Who cares?” After all, it’s got a nice novelty factor to it, but here in the B2B marketing world, novelty has only a small place. So does Google Cardboard belong in B2B?

Honestly? I’d say it was custom-made for it.

The Size of the Solution

In B2B, the solutions being sold are often, well, big—a large piece of equipment, a suite of equipment, an entire facility. Things you can’t just lug around in a bag or mail to a conference. But with VR, you can do exactly that. Take a prospective client on a tour of that facility. Let them interact with that massive piece of equipment. Even better, you’re showing them those things in an extremely controlled environment, where every pixel has been designed to contribute to a better, more sellable experience.

The Complexity of the Solution

While not all B2B products and solutions are physically large, they’re almost always extremely complex. The technology that goes into them, how the elements of a solution fit together, how they interface with client infrastructure. Visualizing those solutions and how they work in a clear way that communicates value is everything a sales rep wants. And with VR, you can evolve past the confusing, boring tangle of color-coded boxes that adorn most PowerPoint slides. You have a new dimension and level of interactivity to tell your story.

The Intimacy of the Sale

B2B sales are often one-on-one, whether it’s in the boardroom, during a private meeting at a restaurant, or in a conference booth. It’s the perfect environment for, “Here, let me show you something cool” and then pulling out a phone and the Google Cardboard viewer. In those situations, you have the benefits of the previous point, but also the meeting stands out as memorable to the prospective client.

The Size of the Budget

It’s in the dollars where Google Cardboard really seems to be custom-made for B2B. Marketing budgets in B2B are notoriously small or, even when they’re large, notoriously constrained. Those dollars have to be accounted for. And the investment in Google Cardboard is extremely low: $20 per viewer and however much you want to invest in the app itself, which is extremely flexible and allows you to develop as simple or as rich an experience as you need.

The Potential for a Platform

Another big selling point for Google Cardboard in the B2B world is that, despite the viewers basically being made of trash, they are far from throwaway. Cardboard can be a platform for a larger and longer-term marketing strategy that encompasses expandable apps or a growing a suite of apps that can be used in all business situations, from direct-mail to the convention table and all other forms of sales outreach. You’re really only limited by the creativity of your marketing teams and agencies on this one.

Conclusion

The real beauty of Google Cardboard is that all the money goes into the experience. Once the novelty of the cardboard and the immersive world wear off, the content is still extremely valuable and allows for wide levels of differentiation. It wouldn’t surprise me if soon we’ll start seeing Google Cardboard viewers at every booth and in the bags of every sales rep.

As you can see, we’re pretty excited by the potential of Google Cardboard, so drop us a line if your interested in exploring the possibilities with us.

In the years since Apple hastened the end of the Flash interface, and along with it Flash’s culture and community of user experience innovators, we have seen the mobile web evolve into so many uniform, joyless experiences that turn users off. This is the admission that Facebook made a couple weeks ago when it launched Facebook Instant Articles - its new proprietary publishing platform that is designed to free publishers from the constraints of the mobile web and to once again create immersive and innovative content that captivates users.

Because Facebook is the King Kong of distribution channels it has often found itself in the unique position of wanting to argue philosophically for an open web, while simultaneously having the most to lose in its failure to deliver a compelling experience. Financially speaking, Facebook exists to serve you ads, and while you wait for pages to load or leave the app entirely due to an amputated attention span, less ads are served. This chasm between low-grade mobile experiences and financial success has resulted in Facebook’s (and others like them) move away from standards-based mobile development, and toward more stable and desirable native Android and iOS experiences. Despite early promises to beach it’s ship on the receding tide of a standardized mobile web, Facebook has time and again drawn the same conclusion that we all have intuitively — users prefer a native app.

So for Facebook’s 745 million daily mobile users, the implications of Facebook Instant Articles are clear. Facebook is where most people go to get their news, and the news experience will be far better with Instant Articles. It will be faster, more intuitive, and more immersive. It will be closer to the experiences that the Flash community was imagining in the pre-Flex days, and closer to the experiences Apple was promising - to both publishers and to consumers - in the early iPad days. Remember Al Gore’s, Our Choice? Facebook Instant Articles will play to our natural lusts for images, videos, and the ability to “tap around” our news versus just reading it.

For publishers, the implications are fairly clear as well. The shared goal of Facebook and its publishers is to create more engagement with the content and thereby to lengthen a user’s session. The format and the tools for accomplishing this will open up new creative opportunities for publishers, and allow them to think outside the constraints of a standard mobile website. The downside for the publisher, however, is managing yet another delivery platform - this one based entirely on what Facebook decides to prioritize. Managing content across devices is already a significant challenge. Now publishers may need to start thinking about managing content across apps and operating systems, as well as the potentially more murky business arrangement between content owners, content distributors, and advertising partners.

And for Facebook, the implications are somewhat less clear. For certain, extending the user session accomplishes an important goal in Facebook’s business model. However, researching, building and maintaining a publishing platform of this potential magnitude seems like a significant step to take in order to achieve the reported 7-second shave off of average load times for news articles - a lag, by-the-way, that is so far technically inexplicable. It’s almost ridiculous to think that this miraculous new speed, along with better designed content, would be the only motivation for Facebook to make such an investment. It makes me think the real business-impacting news is yet to come.

So what about the mobile web? What are the implications for responsive web sites, mobile advertising, and non-native experiences in general? I asked my LinkedIn and Twitter communities to send me examples of mobile websites that they would consider innovative. I received exactly zero examples. It seems clear at this point that the mobile experience will be dominated by native apps, not mobile websites. What Facebook Instant Articles does is potentially hasten that end. Facebook will create an environment where some of the world’s largest publishers - most of whom are already publishing content to their own native apps - will be creating and delivering content using a proprietary set of tools on a proprietary content platform. If users love it, the shift will be significant.

Almost a decade ago, convinced of its monstrosity, Steve Jobs chased Flash up a windmill and burned it alive for running counter to an espoused HTML5/open web ethos. And in the years since, we have indeed seen the mobile experience evolve into fertile ground for innovation and engagement. This ground, however, does not exist in the open web as Jobs imagined, but rather in the walled gardens of so many native mobile applications. Facebook Instant Articles, as a proprietary platform, is a potentially significant land grab of valuable web content and with it, a significant new share of user attention.

It looked like somebody had dumped a trash can on my desk. It was covered in small bits of paper and plastic and brown cardboard. Somebody asked me what I was doing. It wasn’t until after I answered the question that I realized how ridiculous it sounded, “I’m putting together a pair of virtual reality glasses.”

Google Cardboard, after being available to the public for a year, is finally getting some mainstream attention. And that’s because Google is really starting to push it. Just in May, Google assigned an official design boss for what had previously been a casual side project, it created a guide for designing virtual reality experiences, it released an iPhone version, and it refined its design to accommodate all phone sizes and types.

Google seems all in, and it’s exciting.

I’ve never worn an Oculus Rift, the super-high tech virtual reality system owned by Facebook and which has, in the past few years, owned all the buzz on virtual reality. Few have. That’s because these things are extremely complex and not yet available to the general public. They’re slated to be consumer-ready in early 2016, with a projected price of $1500. That means, well, that most of us still won’t have experienced virtual reality.
For virtual reality to really catch on, you’ve gotta make it cheap.

And you can’t get cheaper than cardboard. Or Cardboard.

Google’s Cardboard project is brilliant: Take the cost out of the hardware and use a ubiquitous software platform: the smartphone. It’s almost like they were inspired by the 3D glasses of old, which promised big experiences using only cardboard and colored cellophane.

For as little as $15.00 (the cost of the glasses plus a free app on your own phone), anyone can experience something heretofore only touted in science fiction.

But is it a good virtual reality experience? That was the question that had me assembling trash on my desk. We had purchased a third-party kit (there’s already an ecosystem of players in the Google Cardboard world on both the hardware and software sides because of the easy entry points) with a slightly different design, but it was 100% Google Cardboard innovation.

I put them on. Suddenly I was on stage with Paul McCartney singing Live and Let Die. I switched apps and I was zooming down a roller coaster fast enough that my stomach was confused. When I got home I gave it to my five-year-old…who screamed because I’d left on a spooky graveyard environment with zombies. The underwater world one was much more to her liking. She called it the “lookaround game” and kept asking for more experiences. Keep in mind, I wasn’t downloading games (I’d messed up the selector in putting together the glasses, so we couldn’t interact with the screen). They were just “lookaround” experiences. And they were fun.

But you know what? It almost doesn’t matter how good the virtual reality is on Google Cardboard. I mean, it’ll matter with the Oculus Rift. For the cash you’re investing there, you’ll rightly expect the best experience ever. But when your investment is under $20, you’re going to give the experience some leeway. Plus, and this is another brilliant move on Google’s part, if you don’t like the experience, you won’t blame the system. How can you? It’s just cardboard. It did its job just by ensuring slot A lines up with tab B. You blame the app, and then you just get a new one to try. And there will be a ton of experiences to try if the Google Cardboard viewer takes off with enough users.

The possibilities for Google Cardboard in the future are endless. Heck, the possibilities for it right now are already…virtually…endless in its current state. At Maark, we’ve already started fitting it into our projects. How often can you say that about a first-gen technology?

If I can call good old cardboard a first-gen technology.

Microsoft has confirmed that its personal digital phone assistant Cortana is coming to Android and iOS. It’s also coming to PCs, but, you know, who talks about desktops any more. From the announcement:

Part of the power of a personal assistant comes from being available on the go, on the device you carry with you everywhere. And for people who don’t have the benefit of a Windows phone, we want to extend the advantage of Cortana in Windows 10. How will this work? Today, we’re announcing a Cortana application for Android phones and for iPhones which works as a companion to Cortana on your Windows 10 PC.

So far, Siri has been the faceless poster child for digital assistants, but it’s also gotten the brunt of most of the jokes. Certainly, for most, its usefulness seemed to average down to setting alarms at night. When Cortana debuted, many touted its broader capabilities since it was able to open apps and toggle settings and was generally more responsive. But its big problem was that it was only available on Windows phones, the phones everybody seemed to like but nobody wanted to own.

With the announcement, Cortana is getting a bigger stage, not just against Siri, but also Google Now, the non-personified Google equivalent. So maybe this is the pressure that starts making digital personal assistants more helpful. Of course, the caveat is that Cortana won’t be as full-featured as its Windows phone counterpart, since they don’t have the access to the operating systems and hardware to integrate deeply enough. So it might be a nonstarter.

Either way, I feel somehow guilty for using neuter pronouns throughout this post.