Below is a guest post about product trends submitted by the team at Pivot International.
It reminded me of the outlook and overview of the concept of product vision that I posted at the beginning of 2014.
In that post, I suggested that product managers should always keep an eye on product trends in the marketplace as they formulate and refine their vision for the future. Some months I feel like I do a better job of that than other months.
For those who are overinvesting in heads-down time trying to meet tactical objectives, hopefully this post will be a chance to look up for a few moments and recognize some of the important themes going on all around you.
And now, the post:
Product Trends to Watch in 2016
As another year begins, many begin to naturally think about the future and resolve to do things differently or to start something new. If that is a new product or service offering, it’s important to know just what people really want, or even better, to anticipate something that’s going to be big in the near future. It’s easier said than done.
The whims of the public can change almost literally overnight. So, how do you combat that? One possibility is to look at bigger product trends, at broader categories. Instead of looking at what particular widgets might appeal to someone, instead look at what they already enjoy and consider ways to make that even better. Of course, if you have a great totally new idea, you should go with it, but if you want to create and aren’t quite sure with where to start, look at where people are and jump off from there.
Today, at least in early 2016 (and for some time before that), it’s all about the computer — it’s hard to miss that product trends favor mobile technology like smartphones and tablets, and the constant connectivity and information the internet allows us. It is incredibly convenient to what practically amounts to a personal assistant in your purse or pocket when you need directions to a restaurant, want to buy movie tickets, or just need to know who the 24th President of the United States was.
To help you find your jumping off point, we analyzed the current trends in product development for 2016:
All Our Media Combined
Just for a start, consider that many people today don’t just have computers at home. Now, they have phones, which are essentially computers in their own right. Some of them have tablets or laptops (or both). These same people may have smart TVs or video game consoles, too. All of these are connected to a single person, and sometimes they require a great deal of juggling between accounts. Anyone who can make the consolidation of data and identity easier for marketers, vendors, and consumers may have a real hit on their hands.
Put in the addition of social media, and it’s really easy for people in the business of selling to find their ideal customers at a glance, just through the aggregation of data. Companies like Google are already doing this through targeted ads in email. Sites like Netflix and Amazon attempt to build suggestions of further items a consumer might want to buy based upon previous purchases. A way to bring this kind of technology to bear for smaller businesses, without reverting to the old method of email, would be much appreciated.
One of the big product trends at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2016 in January was the incorporation of internet technology into vehicles. Bumper cams for backing up the minivan or Wi-Fi routers inside the car are features many people want to see and have expanded. Things like self-driving cars, or vehicles you can just rent with a credit or debit card and pay by the mile, may be just around the corner. Big auto companies are already collaborating with internet giants and robotics developers to make such things a possibility.
More and more cars are being built with integrated technology. There are screens in the back for the kids, and a smartphone mount for the adults, which allow drivers to turn their cars into smart devices, playing internet radio, making voice-activated phone calls, or using the phone’s GPS navigations to avoid ever getting lost again. Many of us spend hours a day inside vehicles. Anything that makes that time easier is sure to be well-received.
Shopping on the Go
Internet shopping continues to rise in popularity, showing no sign of slowing down. Whatever product you sell will likely be sold online, even if not at first. So you need to be aware of product trends around items sold online, as well as around the devices that allow you to get online to make purchases.
If you want to expand, online commerce is necessary in today’s economy.
Shoppers today can even use their smartphones to pay at physical stores. Got an idea to make the process easier or to allow other product creators to get their ideas to these shoppers? You may have a big seller on your hands.
Just Say It
To judge by the popularity of Siri, Google Chrome, and Cortana, people like to talk to their devices and have them respond, or even talk back. This is going to continue to be a rising trend, at least into the near future. In fact, due to the way screens tend to take so much battery power, there may be devices in the future that operation almost purely through an audio interface. While there may be a screen involved, the need to use it will be much less, greatly extending battery power.
Devices like Amazon Echo have taken voice activation to a new level. With the right systems installed in your home, the Echo device’s artificial assistant can control many of the electrical devices in your home, including your lighting, entertainment, and security systems. All you have to do is tell it what you like, and it operates at your command.
Just for You
Today’s consumer is saturated with choices and information. Anyone can find exactly what they want when shopping, if they’re willing to take the time. Unfortunately, this lacks the charm of going into a store where the clerk knows your name, where they can show you something you might like, just for you, stemming from your known personal tastes. If your product development process can be optimized to create something customized for each given customer — not just their name inscribed on it somewhere — but something truly unique, in addition to whatever usefulness the core product has, you may well have a big seller on your hands.
Business has always been about the right balance of supply and demand. Knowing exactly what one’s customers or potential customers are wanting at any given moment can be a huge advantage, and not just for the vendor. People who are shopping really enjoy finding exactly what they want easily, and without a lot of fuss. Streamlining the process to allow producers to produce what their customers want to the finest detail is going be a good goal for any would-be entrepreneurs.
Immersed in Another Reality
It’s been building for years now — in fact, it’s been hyped before and fallen by the wayside, but this time, it might really make its breakthrough in the near future. Virtual reality is currently being developed by a number of prominent companies, and just like 3D movies have made a big comeback, it’s looking like VR may go in a similar direction. Currently, it’s being marketed largely to gamers and are not priced for the casual consumer, but there are growing alternatives for those who are casually interested in experiencing VR for themselves, like Google Cardboard.
HTC, Sony’s PlayStation, and the highly-visible Oculus Rift are all set to make their debuts in 2016. As mentioned before, these are largely platforms for gaming, but if this grows in popularity the applications could be myriad. Imagine being able to tour a house you’re considering buying without ever having to purchase it, or watching a movie in the IMAX perspective privately, in your own home, without even disturbing anyone sitting next to you. And naturally, there is the prospect of traveling to new places while sitting on the sofa.
Microsoft is taking the idea a step further their HoloLens technology. This will allow a version of augmented reality, in which the user will perceive virtual objects in the real world. As with VR, it is currently being developed for games, but in the future, it could be easy to imagine stores using individualized advertisements or having information placed directly into your field of vision, much as Google Glass attempted, but with more finesse. Speaking of which, Google is not down and out yet — they are currently funding their own ventures into augmented reality.
The Power of Social Media
Once, sales relied upon word-of-mouth from customers. And they still do, but in a totally different manner. Now, if someone has an experience with a product, whether good or bad, they can publish reviews, make a tweet, or otherwise express their feelings in a way that hundreds, or thousands, or even millions of people might see, in an instant. Because one bad review can start a trend, sellers have to actively engage in the social media world themselves.
Giving people, whether customers or vendors, better ways to communicate with each other and one another is a good way to attract attention. Social media can work both ways, when used in the right way, allowing even the smallest of vendors to create huge awareness for their brand. A new app or method to make this process easily would go over very well.
Beyond the power to enhance commerce, social media gives everyone the opportunity to express their views in a manner which allows many people to see it. There are Twitter celebrities, YouTube celebrities, people with a large number of Pinterest followers — people like the idea of being famous in their own way. Someone with a new social media innovation could make the next big splash.
Wearable (or Implantable or Edible) Technology
Fitbit and smart watches have already come onto the scene, but that’s just the beginning, as technology and its interfaces get smaller and smaller, while still growing in power. Since these little devices are usually connected to a smart phone or tablet, they can have far more capabilities than a purely self-contained object. For example, a fitness bracelet can easily monitor steps taken, heartbeat, and other parameters, but when coupled with a mobile device (and perhaps information in the cloud), it can give the wearer a comprehensive fitness assessment and help develop plans to keep its wearer physically fit.
Some people are already thinking beyond the bracelet, however. It’s one thing to wear a device outside the body, but what about one that’s taken internally? While that may seem like step too far for many, that hasn’t stopped developers from seriously pondering the concept. If a bracelet can deliver so much information, how much better will monitors inside the body work? In time, those who are interested in this technology see these “internables” one day enhancing the senses or cognitive abilities, allowing wearers to simply look at something or hear something and acquire instant information on it.
Just about all of the above product trends concern the internet in some manner. We’re all becoming more connected electronically. There are many benefits to this, but one glaring problem is the inevitability of hack attempts.
Most of us have been involved in services or sites where we’ve had to change passwords due to a hacker gaining access to personal information. Some have even had money or their very identities stolen by these hackers. Naturally, people lose trust in organizations and services when there’s a hacking attempt, but often as not, there are few other places to go to get those services, or it’s just too inconvenient to change everything to make the move to another organization.
It’s just a fact of life that hacking occurs, and people tend to be resigned to that fact, even in the face of personal losses. The organization that can either prevent the majority of these attacks, or quickly repair any damage that occurs after these attacks, will certainly have an advantage over companies that are slow to defend themselves and their customers.
Already, there are services available that offer personal protection, whether through monitoring of personal details, or password management, but there is always room for innovation. The right person with the right ideas can easily make an impression in this field.
Inspiration often comes in its own way, at its own time, but sometimes a little push or nudge can make a world of difference. Look out there and see what people enjoy (or can’t stand) and you may spark the idea for the next big product that sweeps the market. There are far more up and coming product trends — some of which do not even follow the internet at all. Follow your passion and see where it takes you.
Laura O’Donnell writes smart content on behalf of the product development experts at Pivot International. As an avid writer and learner, she loves to use her skills for engaging others in important topics in creative and effective ways. When she is not working, she loves meeting new people, traveling, and bringing her Pinterest dreams to life. Find her on LinkedIn.
Image source: Unsplash