3D Printing, gamification, hybrid cloud, SaaS, smartphones, “apps”, tablets, ultra books, mobile commerce, omni-channel retailing, crowdsourcing, social networks and artificial intelligence…How many of these concepts are you familiar with? As I closed the door on 2011 and looked to the emerging technology scene for insights into 2012, I found some “new-to-me” tech vocabulary among the list of recognizable terms and “not-so-old friends”. Fortunately, Wikipedia served me well where my computing knowledge demonstrated gaps! As I sifted through trends and predictions provided by a selection of technology media sources, I pondered the impact of given advancements for the soft goods manufacturing and retail sectors:
- How will new technologies and capabilities be integrated into textile and apparel business architectures/processes?
- How will technology solutions change the employees interact with their colleagues or the way companies interact with consumers and/or their supply chain partners?
- How will textile/apparel focused technology providers integrate new capabilities into their solutions? How long before related solutions enter the market?
Answers to these questions will vary by specific technology area and in some instances the soft goods industry is already beginning to witness or experience the integration of emerging technology solutions arising from the broader technology landscape. Most notably, new capabilities within the consumer electronics area are opening the door for innovative ways of interacting with consumers at retail. However, retail is not the only part of the soft goods industry that is/will benefit from emerging technologies and trends. Interesting opportunities are also appearing if we look further into the supply chain. With an eye toward new opportunities, I’ll be expanding on a selection of technology trends over the next few posts. To start with, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening in the area of smartphones, tablets and ultrabooks:
The Growth of Mobile
Starting with the familiar, all sources point to mobile as a technology area that is increasingly pervasive from a cultural and business standpoint. In fact, SmartPlanet’s Joe McKiendrick (10 Game-Changing Business Innovations for 2012,) refers to Smartphones as a “disruptive” technology impacting markets for cell phones and landlines as well as a growing list of technologies that starts with “…cameras, portable music players, video games, GPS devices, PC’s, watches, remote controls, alarm clocks, levels and other measurement tools, thermometers, radios, microscopes, calendars, advertising…”. Mobile capabilities will continue to grow and according to PCWorld’s Megan Geuss (Tech Trends You’ll See in 2012), smartphones are becoming “more powerful” and “battery-efficient” as a result of the integration of dual-core processors. In the context of business, dual-core processing allows smartphone users to engage in simultaneous tasks, essentially making the smartphone a more useful tool for conducting business. Examples of multi-tasking might include opening and reviewing a garment or component image while searching a topic in the web browser or switching between multiple browser windows as you research a subject or access and review product or manufacturing reports.
Geuss (PCWorld) also notes that near field communication chips (NFC), which enable secure transmission of small packages of data over short distances are starting to be incorporated into smartphone technologies enabling mobile, touch payments and “peer-to-peer networking”. These capabilities are beginning to have an impact on how consumers shop for and purchase products at retail. Google Wallet is an example of an application that harnesses the capability of NFC. As the website describes, “The Google Wallet mobile app securely stores your credit cards and offers on your phone. When you check out at brick-and-mortar stores that accept Google Wallet, you can pay and redeem offers quickly just by tapping your phone at the point of sale.”
Looking at the product development and business operations level, peer-to-peer networking is enabling sharing of digital information which could have relevance in the context of trade shows, meetings or similar business interactions. The value here is the ability to share information on the fly – no need to launch laptops or pull out a USB flash drive. Some readers may have already witnessed the use of peer-to-peer networking among early adopters of NFC enabled smartphones to exchange contact information through a quick touch of devices. There is also the opportunity to employ NFC for electronic identification that may trigger access to a location. Electronic boarding passes are an example of such an application. This strategy is beginning to eliminate some inconvenience for those professionals that travel frequently.
Beyond smartphones, adoption of tablets will continue to grow among consumers and tablets will become more useful in terms of computing power. NPD DisplaySearch (Mobile PC Outlook Shows Growing Influence of Tablet PCs) summarizes findings included in the Quarterly Mobile PC Shipment and Forecast Report stating that during 2011, tablets accounted for 25.5% of mobile PC shipments. The iPad dominates the tablet market. However a number of sources including PCWorld (Geuss), indicate that during 2012, stronger if fewer competitors (as compared to the recent past) will become available.
However this plays out, tablets are becoming increasingly pervasive and are on the rise in terms of their application for commerce/business, as well as entertainment and leisure. In fact, Apparel Magazine and Gartner recently issued a collaborative report, 6th Annual Top Technology Trends in the Apparel Market which points to the use of tablets among sales associates for enhancing interaction with consumers and “advanced selling” in the retail environment. Apparel Magazine’s Gary Lombardo (Staying Ahead of the Tablet Trend in 2012) further describes the use of tablets by sales staff to deliver more “personal, service-enhancing customer experience” in which the “…store associate can recommend products, packages of products and/or services without having to leave the shopper’s side.” This article also describes the use of tablets for retail kiosks that empower the consumer in the retail setting.
As we explore technology trends for 2012, keep in mind that smartphones and tablets are not the only contenders on the mobile front. Ultrabooks are also on the rise in terms of their importance for mobile computing. Heather Clancy (Consumers Taking to Tablets, But Get Ready for Ultrabooks, SmartPlanet) indicates that ultrabooks are ”…less then 0.8 inches thick, come with solid state drives and are characterized by instant-on and always-on features.” Think very thin laptop – essentially a tablet with more computing power and a keyboard. The MacBook Air is an example of such as device. Rob Enderle (Top Technology Trends for 2012, TechNews World) predicts that “thin” will be a focus for development of mobile technologies and will move into notebooks in a big way. Furthermore, with the introduction of Windows 8, touch technology will also move into the broader personal computing market. Enderle states that this will effectively “…blur the lines between PCs and tablets…”. Pushing the envelope further, we’re also starting to hear about flexible systems (Roll up the iPad: Siemens advances the flexible screen, Mark Halper, SmartPlanet) in the research and development pipeline for screen technologies.
The Value of Mobile for Retail and Beyond
Ultimately, as mobile technologies become stronger from a computing perspective, their value from a business and operational standpoint will also grow. I’ve already mentioned the use of tablets by sales associates or within kiosks to enhance consumer experience within the retail setting. Additionally, the use of mobile technologies by consumers is contributing to an increased ability to conduct product research that informs purchasing decisions. Apparel Magazine (What Really Improves the Customer Experience?, Dana Warszona) refers to “omnichannel shoppers” that research and purchase products via a number of technology channels as opposed to through the use of a single device. For example, while at home or in a wi-fi enabled location a consumer may use a tablet or laptop to search for a product, read product reviews, and collect competitive pricing and product availability information prior to entering a store. Product research may also be conducted with a smartphone while having coffee somewhere or shopping in a bricks and mortar location. With this in mind, retailers are being put in the position of having to develop consumer interfaces and apps for a variety of mobile forms in addition to more traditional e-commerce sites.
The Apparel/Gartner Top Technology Trends report points to the fact that companies surveyed for the report are rising to the challenge by investing in mobile technologies for promotion, selling and management of customer relations. Companies surveyed also report looking beyond the selling floor for integration of mobile into operations and are in the process of piloting, testing and/or deploying mobile technologies at the product development level. In fact, smartphones and tablets present an opportunity to easily share, review and comment on imagery related to style and color trends, trims, materials, silhouettes, and fit sessions regardless of location. We’re now beginning to see the ability to browse design information contained within PLM systems from mobile devices. We’re also seeing the introduction of iPhone apps to support these activities. Solutions from vendors such as Centric and Pantone can be used for capturing and communicating inspiration images and color information. In the case of the Centric app, a photo can be captured, supporting information added and then uploaded directly to the PLM system. With the myPantone app users can access Pantone colors and select from these to create color palettes that can be reviewed, shared and sent to print. Mobile devices can even be calibrated for more accurate color viewing.
From an IT perspective, the growing use of mobile devices also presents an interesting challenge for companies, particularly if the “bring your own device” movement that some tech resources point to becomes a larger reality within the textile and apparel supply chain. Heather Clancy (e.g. Apple, disruptor of corporate IT departments, SmartPlanet) describes this BYOD shift and points to a report by Forrester that illustrates the related growing adoption of the Macintosh platform within the corporate world as employees begin to rely on Apple based mobile devices and applications as part of their daily work life.
My Next Post
In my next post I’ll discuss the growing importance of “apps” as well as trends in cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS). Readers will begin to see that mobile closely connects to cloud computing. So stay tuned and in the meantime, let me leave readers with the following questions: How do you currently use mobile in your daily working life? What would you like to do in a mobile setting that you can’t do today?