Ajay Chowdhury, CEO of Seatwave, discusses the cyclical nature of tech innovation and what London’s businesses can do to make the most of new technology
Behold, there come seven years of great plenty … And there shall arise after them seven years of famine, and all the plenty shall be forgotten. Genesis 41:29-30
Although I suspect the writers of the Bible were not talking about technology, over the last several decades, tech innovations have tended to come in seven year cycles. So in the eighties we had the launch of the desktop PC, followed around seven years later by the laptop in the early nineties followed by the brave new world of the internet culminating in the last cycle started by the launch of the iPhone in 2007. So we are due for the next seven year cycle now and what is it likely to be? Drones (Amazon is investing)? Robots (Google is investing)? Virtual Reality (Facebook is investing)?
While I believe that all these areas are interesting (Skynet is real, people!) I suspect that they are not going to be the drivers of the next major seven-year tech cycle for a variety of reasons – primarily to do with regulations (what happens if a drone delivering your neighbour’s books from Amazon falls on your head?) and user behavior (‘True’ virtual reality as being touted by Oculus Rift still feels niche and a way away from becoming mainstream).
However, my feeling is that the next big wave is likely to be around wearables. Fitness-related wearables have been gaining traction over the last few years with Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike+ etc. and smartwatches have also been getting a lot of press, if not too many sales, with the likes of Pebble, Samsung Galaxy Gear and so on. But none of these have had a killer app which makes them a must-buy for the masses. So what might that killer app be? And how can London’s tech companies capitalise on it?
Apple’s iWatch has been long rumoured as has the thought that it might be more of a health related product. If a series of wearables enter the market that fulfill a few key criteria – might that be enough for liftoff? Some of the criteria might be:
a) It has to look good – if you are going to wear something you have to want to wear it.
b) It is likely to be connected to your smartphone rather than be a standalone device so that battery life and computing power can be managed.
c) It has to do something your smartphone does not or cannot do on its own – if it is just making looking at texts a little more convenient then it probably will not get to the mass market.
So what does a smartwatch have that a phone doesn’t? Well it has a screen you can look at easily on your wrist (and most people are used to looking at watches so no change in behavior needed there), it is always on and ubiquitous and it touches your skin. This could allow for sensors that monitor our health on an ongoing basis and send the data to the smartphone, perhaps into Apple’s rumoured HealthBook.
So a case for wearables can certainly be made. It is hard for tech companies in London to play on the hardware side of this equation but there is certainly going to be a huge market on the software side. The challenge that companies can start thinking about is what the user interface is going to need to be for these wearables.
When engineers were designing desktops and laptops they were designing for users looking at the screen for 45 minutes to an hour at a time as they worked or surfed the web. However, when the smartphone came along, most of these companies could not make the leap to move from a one-hour session to a two-minute session, which is what smartphones needed. So a whole host of new companies emerged that could design the types of apps that we are now so familiar with.
But wearables are likely to move from a two minute session to a 5-10 second session. This will need fundamentally different design skills and noone has these right now. We have a huge number of very talented engineers and design agencies in London and this is an area they can and should start thinking seriously about.
Ajay Chowdhury is the CEO of ticket marketplace Seatwave. He is the former chairman of Shazam Entertainment and ex-CEO and executive chairman of cloud-based retail company ComQi. He is also a non-executive director on the board of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport advising on media and technology issues.