Can Understanding Hourly Car Traffic Flows Improve Store Traffic?

Mobility data provider Citilabs has created what it claims is the first comprehensive map of hourly traffic flow in the U.S.

Dubbed Streetlytics, the data visualization tool leverages information from billions of data points to measure and paint what Citilabs CEO Michael Clarke says is the “most complete picture of the moving population.” In addition to hourly details of where traffic is coming from and going to, it also shows traveler demographics based on derived home locations.

Asked if there is any value for either multi-location businesses or even independent small-to-medium sized businesses from Streetlytics’ hourly traffic map, Clarke emphasized that “Streetlytics is much more than an hourly traffic map.”

“It does provide the directional volume of vehicles and people moving along every street in the US by hour and type of day (weekdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays), but it also tells business where those people live (and the associated demographic information such as income, size of household and many other attributes), as well as where those people are coming from and going to and why they are traveling (commuting to work, for example),” Clarke said.

Streetlytics also compiles the routes that people take, he added. So, for a business, let’s say a doughnut chain, Streetlytics can identify the road segment where you find the maximum number of the target market that does not currently drive within, say a quarter-mile, of one of their existing locations and/or their competitors.

“Nothing like that has existed until now—determining location based on the flow of the target market down the streets, not simply based on where the target market lives,” Clarke said.

In terms of who Streetlytics data, which hows the intensity of traffic volume on roadways in the continental USA by hour for an average work day, the underlying data and insights are applied today in advertising, insurance, real estate, retail, investment and new mobility solutions.

Hugh Malkin, director of Business Development, offers this explanation of the tool’s value: “Since Streetlytics provides the routes used for every vehicle trip, it is also a great base line or control to measure the impact of new technologies around smart cities on every road in the US. These averages can help businesses, startups, and governments spot anomalies in the new technologies they are testing to help them learn and get better faster.”

“Another example of how this information is important is that it tells businesses not only the number of people that pass in front of or near their location but the detailed characteristics of those travelers,” Clarke noted. “That is important information for helping business to align their product breadth, depth and assortment with the drive by population and for use when comparing against in-store transactional data.”

Smart Cities On The Road

The information from Streetlytics could help spur projects around the “smart cities” concept for businesses, tech companies or municipal planners, Clarke said.

In explaining the underlying value of Streetlytics to those constituencies, Clarke offered this analogy: If you were considering opening a restaurant, you would want to understand the market for your restaurant.

The big question you would have would be “Does the demand exist and does it match with what your restaurant will serve?”

When planners, businesses and tech companies consider where to put a road, a transit line, a bike path or, say, to initiate some kind of new mobility service or smart concept—they really have no clear understanding of the demand—how many people are going to and from every part of the city, by hour by day, Clarke said.

“Streetlytics provides a comprehensive view of travel demand. It tells a provider or planner how many people travel from say Riverdale to Tribeca, or Hoboken to Wall Street hour by hour and the characteristics of those people,” he said. “That’s valuable information for planners who want to have a clear understanding of not just where they have traffic jams or crowded subways, but where those people are coming from and going to so that solutions can be found that serves that market and alleviates the problem.”

“In the same way, it provides a clear understanding of the market for private enterprise to serve that demand with evolving mobility services – does this make sense for us to create such a service – what is the size and characteristics of the market?” You can think of many examples where Streetlytics can improve the ‘smartness’ of cities such as much more efficient ways of operating services and infrastructure on a daily basis, to where you should spend your maintenance budget to give the best bang for the buck,” Clarke said.

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HERE’s Tracking Tools Promise To Find Lost Shipments — And Eventually, Your Luggage

After spending most of the past two years drilling down on smart cities tech and automotives, navigation technology software provider HERE is finishing up 2017 by entering a new market: tracking shipments.

HERE Tracking, the company’s new platform, offers the ability to track lost luggage, warehouse products and goods, even people through the use of Internet of Things-connected devices. The program is much broader than Bluetooth-powered beacons, HERE says. And it’s primarily aimed at streamlining the lucrative shipping space.

To make its case, HERE notes that in a typical year, shipping companies lose more than 1,000 containers at sea, while the the airline industry mishandles more than 20 million pieces of luggage. On top of that, enterprises “lose billions of dollars when road freight is stolen, misplaced or routed inefficiently.”

HERE Tracking promises better visibility into the progress of shipped goods in both inbound component logistics and outbound product logistics can currently provide.

Leon van de Pas, SVP for Internet of Things at HERE Technologies, says: “HERE Tracking answers fundamental questions like where exactly is my shipment? When is it arriving? How did it get there? And, did it take the route it was supposed to? We can help dramatically improve visibility and traceability, and thereby help business and cities save money and cut waste.”

Erminio Di Paola, Head of Tracking at HERE Technologies, adds: “Tracking is essentially about asset management and there are many organizations which have struggled to do this properly because it has been too expensive. In particular, the cost and size of batteries needed to power tracking hardware for weeks or months at a time has made it prohibitive for most. Our unique technology means we can dramatically cut down battery consumption. That means smaller batteries and lower costs, and that makes tracking a viable option today for a wide variety of uses and scenarios.”

The program is being powered by IoT devices and programs created by HERE’s partners,

HERE today also announced that is working with Airoha, the IoT unit of MediaTek, a semiconductor company, and Concox Information & Technology Co., a  designer and manufacturer of professional telematics and wireless communications products. By combining HERE’s real-time location data, with tracking  powered by select Airoha/Mediatek chipsets, the company will be able to pinpoint precisely where on a route a package is.

Separately, people or pets wearing smart devices connected to the chipsets will also be immediately discoverable indoors and outdoors through HERE Tracking apps.

Nevertheless, Haydn Sweterlitsch, writing on HERE’s blog, notes that solving luggage issues is still a ways off.

“While this innovative technology may not help you feel better the next time you’re the last one standing at the carousel, hoping that the conveyor belt doesn’t turn off before your luggage magically appears, don’t worry,” Sweterlitsch says. “With HERE Tracking, an eventual solution to end lost baggage may be closer than ever.”

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How Intel’s Mobileye And Esri Plan To Make Smart Cities Into ‘Safer Cities’ For Transportation

Mapping analytics provider Esri is working with Intel’s Mobileye, a provider of advanced driver-assistance systems software, to combine the former’s location analysis and visualization with the latter’s Shield+ product to help shape transportation safety programs for “Smart Cities.

Mobileye’s Shield+ will stream road safety data retrieved from city bus fleets into Esri’s ArcGIS platform, where information such as pedestrian and cyclist detection in blindspots can be viewed on the Intel company’s Smart Mobility Dashboard.

Shield+ alerts will be updated to the dashboard in real time, providing a city-wide view of pedestrian and cyclist safety. For example, city bus drivers can receive alerts about “imminent hazards” such as a bicyclist or pedestrian coming out of a driver’s blind spot seconds before a potential collision.

“Esri is excited to collaborate with Mobileye for an offering that brings us so much closer to creating safer communities,” said Jim Young, Esri head of business development. “Making spatial data available to governments to improve safety and overall quality of life is an important step.”

Intel Mobileye’s Shield+ with Esri’s location analytics and data visualization can help buses eliminate “blind spots” and provide more traffic safety.

“Through this collaboration with Esri, we are able to provide a game-changing product to cities and mobility providers,” adds Nisso Moyal, director of business development and big data at Mobileye. “By enabling direct uploading of geospatial events from Shield+ fitted to municipal buses and the like to the Mobileye Smart Mobility Dashboard, cities will be able to anticipate and help prevent the next collision, while in general managing all of their assets much more efficiently.”

As Young and Moyal note, the Shield+ project is another way of highlighting how location data is factoring into — and shaping — the future of Smart Cities.

GeoMarketing: What Is “Shield+”?

Jim Young, Esri: I like to think of Shield+ as a set of sensors that are continuously moving around a city, collecting data. While today the sensors are focused on things like saving lives through detecting pedestrians in the street, tomorrow, these sensors could be focused on collecting, reporting, and analyzing any type of road information they collect.

Think about if a series of vehicles passed over a major pothole. If sensors are installed, this could automatically trigger a dispatch to public works in order to repair the hazard quickly. This data, or other types of data, including construction alerts, traffic or weather-related hazards, could also be fed to other vehicles in the fleet to improve awareness in the moment and be analyzed later on, to continue creating smarter cities that provide the best services for their communities.

How did this collaboration between Intel/Mobileye and Esri come about? Was there a previous connection between the two brands? 

Jim Young, Esri: The connection came about through several mutual partners through Esri’s work in Israel. While there has been some previous connection with Intel, this is the first initiative between Esri and Mobileye.

Nisso Moyal, Intel Mobileye: We are excited to work together, as this cooperation provides cities and governments with a tool to make their cities smarter and safer for road users.

Who will this collaboration serve? Municipal governments? Automotive manufacturers? Public transportation authorities? Urban planners/non-profits outside of government? Brands? All of the above (if so, is there a hierarchy?)? 

Jim Young, Esri: The initial collaboration with Shield+ will serve city planners, DoT’s, transit authorities and transportation planners.  We look forward to later iterations expanding to serve a broader customer base.

Does Mobileye’s Shield+ have any other mapping or tech partners beyond Esri? 

Nisso Moyal, Intel Mobileye: Mobileye Shield+ offers increased awareness for operators of long vehicles, and provides vital seconds to react with real-time alerts. Drivers are given an intuitive experience and fleet managers have seamless telematics integration. The system is mounted inside the vehicle’s tab with a tolltag-sized sensor on the windshield and an EyeWatch display on the dash. The Mobileye Sheild+ system uses up to four individual sensors for improved blind spot detection in urban environments. The two level warning system and minimal false alerts achieved by Mobileye assure the highest level of driver attention whenever an alert is delivered including:

  • Forward collision warning: alerts when a collision is imminent with anything ahead of the fleet vehicle;
  • Pedestrian & Cyclist Collision Warning – Alerts when a collision is imminent with a pedestrian or cyclist within the vehicle’s front danger zones;
  • Lane Departure Warning – Alerts when a lane deviation occurs without proper signal notification;
  • Headway Monitoring and Warning – Alerts when the following distance from the vehicle ahead becomes unsafe;
  • Speed Limit Indicator – Recognizes speed limit signs and alerts when the vehicle exceeds the posted limit;

Jim Young, Esri: There are telematics partners but no other mapping partners as part of the solution.

How does Esri’s visualization tools enhance Shield+?

Jim Young, Esri: Esri’s visualization tools enable the customer to see patterns beyond what a single bus can see with Mobileye vision. The technology creates a feedback loop for cities to learn and improve, by turning their existing fleet into a network of sensors that can map the areas of the city where pedestrian safety can be improved.

Shield+ in action

How do you see this collaboration aid the growth of smart cities? 

Jim Young, Esri: By attaching Mobileye sensors to existing fleets, cities can begin to lay the digital tracks for their autonomous future which will create safer roads.  The bundle allows cities to see patterns that were previously invisible. By mapping the data and events that Mobileye vision sensors see across an entire fleet, areas of the city that present a risk to pedestrians and cyclists are revealed and can be improved through improvement initiatives and more informed transportation planning.

How does “asset mapping” work within the context of this collaboration? And do you see any benefit for local businesses from this tool? 

Jim Young, Esri: The initial offering between Esri and Intel Mobileye is focused on improving safety. Future iterations that take advantage of more capabilities of Mobileye vision could benefit asset mapping and be of great benefit to other aspects of cities and local businesses.

How do you expect the project to develop? Any initial expansion plans for 2018 that you can preview? 

Jim Young, Esri: The project will initially be focused on visualizing Mobileye data on an Esri map. We plan to offer Esri customers the ability to see other map layers alongside the Mobileye data, such as transit stops, bus routes, weather and accident data, for example, for additional visualization and analysis.

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How Will The Connected Car Change The Dynamic Between Automakers And Consumers?

Connected cars are expected to make up 75 percent of total car shipments worldwide in 2020, compared with just 13 percent in 2015, according to Gartner.

But unlike features added to cars like FM radio and air conditioning, the features and services associated with the Internet of Things will also pave the way for new ways carmakers and drivers will interact, notes Brendan O’Brien, chief innovation officer and co-founder of Aria Systems, a software company that provides cloud-based billing services for companies such as digital mapping platform HERE, ride-sharing provider Zipcar, Suburu.

In O’Brien’s view, much of the new opportunity for automakers in the age of the connected car will be “recurring revenue” because of the very nature of how these IoT features are consumed, measured and paid for. Some examples of those services and features include subscriptions to consumption-based recurring payment schemes for such things as ride sharing, location services, apps (from connected devices), telematics, wi-fi access, internet radio, among others.

GeoMarketing: Considering all the potential disruption of the auto industry from the connected car, how will the car companies derive revenue from these new IoT related services?

Brendan O’Brien: For the industry to fully capitalize on connected car services, they are going to have to do more than monetize in-car connected services. Connected services will be part of the deal, but cashing in is going to take a fundamental shift in how automakers think about selling cars. What is thought of as “loyalty” now—building and selling a car and hope that it’s good enough that the customer will probably buy another one from you in 5-7 years—has to evolve into building strong and lasting brand affinity.

Instead of building the car, they need to build the brand and the relationship with the customer. It can no longer be a point-of-sale relationship, it has to be constantly nurtured to develop a permanence. That is going to take a direct line of sight to the customer that cannot be maintained with the current dealer-driven sales structure.

Achieving this all-important brand affinity is going to be relatively easy for makers of luxury vehicles and work vehicles, where such affinity tends to already exist, but is going to be much harder for low-to-mid-market makers of passenger vehicles where they risk being commoditized – in these cases the consumer’s affinity and relationship are far more likely to reside with the provider of the service that puts them behind the wheel (think Zipcar, Enterprise CarShare, even Uber and Lyft) rather than the manufacturer of the vehicle itself.

Connected cars are hot, but it looks like industrial applications for connected vehicles could be just as—if not more—lucrative. Why are heavy vehicles and mobile telematics as much in the IoT fray as their passenger-wheel counterparts?  

Usage-based monetization models and IoT integrations are already popping up in the heavy equipment industry with leaders like Caterpillar and John Deere using the technology in many different ways. There is currently a lot of unanswered demand for data that can be used to create efficiencies and increase profit margins with connected industrial vehicles. This will be a fast-growing sector, and we have yet to see its breadth. Industrial applications also tend to contribute to bottom line in a more immediate and direct way than consumer. And for industrial customers, the machines are already a sunk cost and the connected features just become a huge value-add that has an almost instantaneous positive impact to their bottom line, solely based on the productivity gains and loss prevention these connected services provide.

Explain how new services offered from companies like Trimble, Arsenault/Dossier, and others are fixing problems that have plagued heavy construction for years?

These companies are providing usage-based pricing models to get people to use the vehicle, as well as “add-on” services that dramatically increase productivity (e.g. automated fleet management and predictive maintenance alerts) and decrease loss (e.g. geo-fencing that eliminates overnight equipment theft). The add-on services are instantly attractive for their immediate bottom line impact per my response to the prior question, and the pay-per-use model is finding traction because it more naturally aligns with how these businesses measure their own success, which is the same reason so many enterprises have moved toward the use of cloud-based IT infrastructure (like Amazon Web Services) rather than building and hosting their own IT infrastructure. It can also reduce extremely high costs of entry and gives industrial users a whole lot more flexibility as they are never stuck with machinery sitting idle that they bought for project X that won’t be used for project Y and Z.

What are the likes of Ford, Audi and GM doing that they have never dreamed of before?  

Just take a look at recent actions by OEMS like Audi, General Motors and Ford. Audi is currently offering two different types of “lifestyle access” programs including on-demand cars, and pooled usage. Ford just picked up San Francisco crowd-sourced-commuting company Chariot (which uses Ford vehicles), and they have also promised fully-autonomous vehicles by 2021.

The autonomous cars from Ford will only be offered (at least initially) as a commercial mobility service, and not for traditional purchase, pointing to a shift to usage-based, recurring revenue models. General Motors is also getting into the autonomous ridesharing fray, and they say they will be launching a fully autonomous vehicle with its partner Lyft in about five years. GM has also started its own car sharing service called Maven, in addition to its partnership with Lyft. Previously, automakers were content with a very hands-off fleet sales model where rental companies and then ridesharing and car sharing companies like Uber and Zipcar were sold vehicles at volume discounts or provided with special offers for exclusivity.

But it seems they see the writing on the wall when it comes to the changing tastes of millennial consumers—they are less likely to participate in traditional purchases and more likely to buy “experiences”. Automakers are not about to be left out. Though it is a massive culture-shocking change from measuring success to margin-at-sale to long-term annuity and recurring revenue from services, the opportunity is too large to take a pass.

What can businesses do now to develop their connected vehicle go-to-market strategies?

Mainly, they have to prepare for that massive culture change. Automakers, their dealer networks, the wholesale model—it is built on and relies on long-standing traditions and agreements. Today’s customers are used to self-service, to doing their own research and making purchases on their own terms. To these consumers, the dealership model is archaic, painful, and unnecessary.

While upscale and boutique, Tesla is proving that the current dealership model could virtually be a thing of the past if the industry can break down its own bureaucracy. Tesla is the model, and ignoring this model will be done at the peril of mainstream OEMs.

Although it won’t disappear entirely, the current dealer-centric model is a dead man walking. It will and should be more like, say, an Apple Store, where the purchase is made online, the transaction handoff, value-adds, and continuing service happens in the store, and tech upgrades happen over the air.

The dealership becomes part of the relationship, not the entire relationship. There is also a major technical infrastructure aspect of this for OEMS—they have relied entirely on a one-time sales revenue model for the last 110 years. They just don’t have the back-office capability to handle selling, billing, and provisioning products and services outside the dealer network and with a recurring revenue and customer lifetime value model. If this is to scale, they need to prepare their billing and accounting systems and practices today, not after the next launch or acquisition. Internal evangelism for this shift needs to start in the finance office. Recognizing growth and revenue is going to change—margin models cannot be counted on for much longer.

The CFO has to be on board. The best path to getting this new thinking socialized for many OEMs is more likely to be their in-house financing divisions (if they have them), as concepts like “annuity-based returns” (where profit is realized over time rather than at initial point of sale) is far less likely to feel “foreign”. Many of the explorations at OEMs of non-traditional “transportation as a service” ideas are originating from these finance divisions for that very reason.

You cite four main business offerings for what you call “IoT on Wheels” which includes cars and other vehicles. Can you give us some examples of companies that have successfully adopted these models and what they are doing right?

Let me break it down by offering:

  1. For transportation as a service – Audi and BMW are doing a great job building and capitalizing on brand loyalty and the exclusivity of their brands with their white-glove on-demand car services. They took the functionality of Zipcar and turned it into a luxury service that perfectly matches their luxury brands by leveraging the pre-existing brand affinity that is typical of many luxury buyers. Ford is also on board with FordPass, which is the first automaker-produced app that can provide services even to drivers who don’t own a vehicle from that brand. The app can help find parking, lock and unlock the car—all great—but what it really does is help build brand affinity without the customer even having to get into one of their cars.
  2. For post-sale/lease secondary services – While OEMs are all making several forays into services like roadside assistance (e.g. GM’s OnStar), on-board entertainment and navigation, etc., the companies with the most traction and in better market position tend to be after-market providers. Verizon HUM is a great example that leverages the sophistication of the comprehensive data streams provided by modern, ubiquitous OBD ports, and like the many services provided natively by smartphones from Apple and Google, these services go where the consumer goes and are vehicle-agnostic.
  3. For Usage Based Insurance and Taxation – Metromile is a great example of millennial-focused UBI, and Progressive has provided an attractive way for telematics data to directly reduce premiums for safe drivers. Oregon’s OreGo pilot program is determining how effective usage-based-taxation, again derived from telematics data, can more equitably distribute the road-use taxation load in an era of electric and hybrid vehicles. Oregon is finding a way to replace income can no longer be counted on coming from taxes applied at the gas pump.
  4. For secondary data stream monetization – We’re still in the “wild west” to some degree here, where OEMs who are suddenly the beneficiaries of “direct line of sight” data about the users of the vehicles are figuring out how those streams can be analysed and utilized for secondary direct and indirect monetization. But, we’re getting there. Whether used for influencing broad-market decisions like determining which vehicle features should be developed and highlighted in upcoming models, or for targeted individualized offers to consumers for new vehicles that better serve their personal driving habits, or for downstream sale to third parties like insurance companies, there is a sense that there is great value here, even if the exact application of that value isn’t predetermined by the OEMs up front.

You’ve said the challenges currently facing connected vehicles have little to do with the technology itself. What are the main hurdles standing before companies seeking to capitalize on a connected vehicle business?

The answer depends if we are talking about OEMs or aftermarket providers. OEMs face myriad challenges, stemming from their lack of infrastructure to deal with recurring revenue and usage-based models that need to be employed to monetize connected car services.

They have always operated on one-time sales models and they just don’t have the back-office capability to handle selling, billing, and provisioning products and services outside the dealer network. Not to mention that the structure and culture of the dealer networks just does not jibe with how connected services and vehicles are provisioned.

Not to mention the inherent complexity of manufacturing a car—development cycles are long and the lifecycle is even longer. Tech becomes outdated before a car even hits the sales floor. This is where margin accounting comes into play and becomes a problem—though recurring revenue can be derived from services and sales-alternative models like car sharing and shared leasing—automakers still focus on margin at point of sale. Continuing to do this will hinder innovation.

Non-OEMs, the aftermarket, does not face any of these hurdles, and their barriers to entry are typically pretty low. They can still leverage vehicle systems (using OBDII) to provide connected services, and they are not tethered to margin-based accounting. Not to mention that they are far less burdened by regulation, that while beneficial to consumers, constrains OEMs in ways that don’t apply to the aftermarket.

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Nearly One-Third Of US Online Population Will Use Voice Assistants By 2019

While mobile-centric micro-moments has changed the way consumers search for and discover local businesses, the current revolution in voice-activation appears to be taking things in a different direction.

An eMarketer overview forecast of voice-enabled technology (subscription required), charts the rapid rise of Connected Intelligence-based digital assistants as making the transition from mobile to the living room.

At the moment, over 60.5 million people — 18.5 percent of the population — will use voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby, with one-third of US internet users speaking to voice assistants by 2019 (75.5 million people).

Finding Consumers’ Voice

In terms of the use cases, eMarketer cites a February study from HigherVisibility that says consumers primarily employ voice-activated assistants for “simple commands,” such as playing music (14.2 percent), setting alarms (12.6 percent), checking the weather (12.2 percent), looking up a contact (9.4 percent), and getting traffic info (7 percent).

Those numbers were further borne out by an NPR survey this summer that found most of the people surveyed used their smart speakers to play music (68 percent) or check the weather (58 percent), most of the uses offer additional points of connection for brands.

In looking at over two dozen use cases, just 13 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speakers to find a local business.

Looking more closely at search, 20 percent Google search queries are made via voice, while 25 percent of Microsoft Bing users speak their search requests.

The Search Is On

Understanding how people are using voice-activation is the first step, said Mike Grehan, CMO of Acronym and CEO SEMPO in a panel discussion on the topic last month.

In looking at how digital assistants are impacting search, Grehan pointed a study that found 60 percent of voice queries are from people seeking a service, not search,

“When you look at the patterns that you go through, voice is about recommending and suggesting, and then you have discovery, and then you have all those keywords that are not being used to find something on the web,” Grehan said, at the panel event, The Drum Search Awards USA, which was hosted at GeoMarketing parent Yext’s offices in NYC.

A report from Forrester this past spring warned that it was high time for CMOs to face the facts that digital advertising has not worked when it comes to engaging consumers and that the emerging role of voice-activated digital assistants and the connected intelligence that powers the devices by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft will lead to only further breakdown of traditional marketing models.

Ad executives have largely dismissed that warning.

“Is this the end of advertising? I don’t think so,” Fernando Machado, Head of Brand Marketing at Burger King, told us last month at an industry event. “New technology has always opened doors for advertising. This represented a creative way to get the message out, a new way to reach our target audience, to reach our fans. That’s how we see technology: a chance to develop bigger idea that can be deployed across different channels.”

Last April, an ad campaign promoting Burger King’s Whopper set off Google Home devicesby asking its personal digital assistant what the quick serve restaurant chain’s signature product was.

Within hours, Google “blocked” devices from recognizing the question.

In the spot (a 15-second YouTube version is here), a Burger King cashier addresses the audience saying that there’s too many “delicious ingredients” in the Whopper to list in a short commercial. So, instead, the cashier leans in to the camera and says, “But I’ve got an idea: Okay, Google, what is the Whopper Burger?”

Even though Google prevented its devices from responding to the prompt, the ad got more than 10 billion impressions around the globe, with the U.S. leading the charge, Machado said.

Anselmo Ramos, founder and chief creative officer of Miami’s DAVID The Agency, said that the spot was indicative of Burger King’s irreverent, try-anything spirit and how voice-activation will simply represent another channel — in other words, a new beginning for advertising, not the end.

“When you look at radio, everybody understands how to write a spot that hits all the emotional spots,” Ramos said. “With Google Home, no one knows. It’s no territory. So we need to guess and learn. Luckily, we have a great client in Burger King that is willing to embrace new ideas, new technology.”

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Nearly Half Of Online Consumers Are Interested In Using Connected Home Devices

Awareness and interest of voice-activated digital assistants has been rising rapidly in the past year and the shifts among the main devices are reflecting that surge.

With Samsung’s Bixby being rolled out and Apple’s Siri-powered Homepod scheduled to be released at the end of the year, Microsoft and Amazon struck an agreement this week to integrate their respective Connected Intelligence agents, Cortana and Alexa.

Source: Magid Advisors

While 49 percent of U.S. consumers use their voice assistants on a weekly basis, compared with 31 percent of global respondents, according to a JWT, Mindshare, Innovation Group study, penetration of voice-activated devices is still relatively low. But the interest in such technology has clearly entered the mainstream.

As such, almost half of 2,400 consumers surveyed online by Magid Advisors expressed interest owning such a device. Among the topline findings of its report:

  • 25 percent of people who have a connected-home device use voice-activated digital assistants to shop for retail items on the internet
  • Siri (not Alexa) dominates both awareness and usage of voice-controlled digital assistant systems
  • 42 percent of people who have used a voice-controlled digital assistant said that reason is because they like to have their hands free to do other things
Source: Magid Advisors

Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors, offered a few insights into the company’s findings.

GeoMarketing: How do you see the state of virtual, connected assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby, and Okay Google in terms of consumer and brand adoption/activity/use cases?

Mike Vorhaus: Siri is obviously way out front due to its distribution across Apple devices. Products like Alexa, Cortana, Google Home, etc., are all close to each other in awareness and usage to date by consumers.  This is definitely a close horse race at this point.

How do you think it will change over the next year, as Bixby is being rolled out and Apple’s Siri-powered bid for the Connected Home, Homepod, is due to be released in December?

I anticipate that the Siri/Apple device will be very appealing to consumers.  Nonetheless, the devices/software from Amazon, Google, etc., are all strong competitors.

Noting the appeal of voice-activation’s hands’ free capabilities, do you expect that speaking to a device, versus typing on it, will change consumer behavior in specific ways?

Yes, consumers will likely be less exact and will be able to repeat more information than they might otherwise when typing. That should make for better searches and better understanding of what the consumer is saying.

Does the rise of voice-activated interactions call into question the role of websites, in terms of the way they’re constructed from an SEO standpoint, to the kinds of visual-centric (as opposed to audio-oriented) information they provide?    

Yes, just like mobile devices have replaced a lot of desktop/laptop devices, I anticipate the voice-activated devices will similarly reduce use of the desktop/laptop devices.

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Age Of Connected Intelligence: Will People Pay For Fin’s Voice-Activated Assistant?

While artificial intelligence-based, voice-activated digital assistants are rapidly becoming mainstream, it’s safe to say that the respective comprehension of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are still in the learning stages.

For the past two years, tech startup Fin has been working on an operating system that will power an interactive, machine learning-based assistant of the same name that promises to “dramatically outperform” the current leading Connected Intelligence-based virtual assistants as well as “full-time help.”

Putting A Price On Virtual Assistance

Last month, Fin, which was started by Sam Lessin, formerly of Facebook file-sharing acquisition Drop.io, and Venmo co-founder Andrew Kortina, began sending out emails touting its combination of human intelligence and AI, noting that it “remembers all of your personal context and interacts over app, email, web, sms, and phone 24×7.”

One big difference: to access Fin, you have to be a paid subscriber.

The current offer being presented to Fin users starts with the first 2 hours of service each month for $120 per month, with any additional time for $1.00 per minute. (Fuller pricing details can viewed here.)

Is Fin Viable?

While Fin’s Lessin declined to comment for this article, saying he and the company are “pretty heads down at the moment,” we reached out to two thought leaders to get their initial impressions about what sort of impact — if any — the proposition of a subscription-based, highly personalized virtual assistant might have.

“Color me skeptical for the moment,” says Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland. “If it’s 10x better than GoogleNow, Siri, Alexa, there’s something there, but this seems like a very high hurdle. It’s tough enough to get the experience to work for free services. In order to get someone to pay for a digital assistant service is accuracy and utility would likely need to be very high.

“I could see some B2B use cases where there are very specific common queries,” Shotland adds, “but that starts to sound like an Alexa recipe so why not do it through that system? “Then again, perhaps Fin has figured out how to overcome some very specific challenges with these systems. And if that’s the case, it will probably get scooped up by a bigger player much like how Samsung scooped up Viv and turned it into Bixby.”

Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights at Yext (full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here) is a bit less skeptical than Shotland, but also senses some significant limitations to Fin’s practicality as a business.

“I love the idea,” Forrester says. “Though the execution had better knock my socks off for that kind of monthly fee. I mean, that’s close to what house cleaners cost, and that’s a value I see — and believe in. For this service to warrant those kinds of costs, it needs to stand not just head and shoulder above our current free offerings, but a whole body above.”

A Superior Assistant

In terms of the specific implications for local businesses, the rise of voice-activated assistants have coincided with the increased importance of location management in SEO strategy — namely, that making sure that business location information is correct across platforms is key to ranking in Google’s “three-pack” of top mapped results, as is using optimal keywords.

Addressing the particulars of voice search is important in the same vein, especially considering that 76 percent of “near me” searches result in a business visit within a day. In fact, last week, we reported that search volume for local places continues to grow — but explicitly stated “near me” requests are on the decline, since consumers now simply expect results that reflect their proximity.

For example, one of the features uses of Fin showcased on its site includes queries like “Please remember Cotogna as a place I can get dinner after 10pm,” or “”Hey Fin, can you identify the plant in this photo, find me a local nursery that sells them. If it is less than $300 buy it for me and have it sent to my house.”

In other words, Fin is betting that people will naturally expect their devices to help them make plans based on where they are and what’s on their calendar.

“It does make me wonder what research they have on consumer behavior that leads them to think current consumers (and more importantly, those coming up behind them) are willing to pay that much for a service we all essentially get for free today,” Forrester adds.

Within the wider context of the Connected Intelligence space of Internet of Things devices and AI, voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing. So the timing for an even more aspirational, luxury product like Fin appears right. But as GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain recently noted, voice is just one modality in the world of Connected Intelligence, with image recognition and search beginning to play a vital role as well with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo Show.

“Everything about how voice-activated assistants [talk to users or to each other] is going to be centered around: It’s got to be user-friendly, and it’s got to be an experience that can truly benefit the user,” Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead, said at the June 2017 Connections conference. “It can’t just be because an internet service provider feels the opportunity to aggregate. That doesn’t necessarily offer value unless it actually is something that someone really wants to have.”

The way Brown sees the evolution of virtual assistants is that it will follow the path we’ve seen with mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives. At the same time, people tend to build an affinity towards certain devices over time.

In that case, a platform like Fin could benefit from the growth of a Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple Homepod, Microsoft Cortana, or Samsung Bixby, as they seek to augment one AI assistant with others.

“If I had to make a call on this, I’d say it’s a cool idea, the superior assistant, but this doesn’t feel like the path forward,” Forrester concludes. “Even a company like Samsung, with huge resources applied to the problem of building a good digital assistant has struggled with their launch of Bixby in English-language markets. Unless I’m missing something obvious and untapped, I’m not seeing what problem is being solved to such a degree as to merit the cost. And I’m hung up on the cost! In a world where people won’t pay $20 for an app — once! — how does a recurring $120/month, random-use item survive?”

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How Voice-Activation Is Becoming The New ‘Touch’

The adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew 140 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a survey from music streaming service Pandora and Edison Research.

In particular, Pandora usage on these devices grew by a 282 percent year-over-year.

Wit that growth in mind, Pandora sought to get a sense of how the rise of devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana is opening up new opportunities for marketers to reach multiple household members in contextually relevant ways they couldn’t before.

The research bears out much of what NPR found in its recent examination of the role of voice-activation and consumers’ media usage. Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives, NPR’s research said.

Among the obvious points both NPR and Pandora’s separate studies found: listening to music was the initial reason people sought these devices for. But the use cases of have quickly mushroomed.

With Apple emphasizing entertainment as part of its marketing behind its Siri-powered smart speaker, Homepod — which is set to be released in December — the next phase of audio and voice activation may be only just emerging. But it is emerging at a rapid rate.

From Touch To Talking

As Keri Degroote, vice president of research and analytics at Pandora, notes,  it is critical for brands to align their strategies accordingly.

“Voice-activated-everything is spreading like wildfire,”Degroote says. “From what we’ve seen, yes Smart Speakers have just surpassed any fad or experimental phase. The demographics of users (particularly the high proportion of 55+) suggest that this is no longer early adopters, but has hit the mass market. And the frequency with which these devices are used amongst consumers show the true value of bringing them into their homes.”

There is still room to grow in terms of users, functionality and integration – look back on the iPhone’s launch a little over 10 years ago, she adds.

“What brand can you name that doesn’t have a presence on the app store these days?” Degroote says. “And how many brands wish they were on the top of app-store charts in the early days to secure that prime home-screen positioning? It is important brands don’t play catch up in two- or three years’ time and find themselves in the same position.”

Still, Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research, notes that the adoption curve may be different from some of the other technologies and platforms that consumers have popularized since the iPhone emerged.

For example, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, as well as fitness trackers and wearables, have tended to be driven first by younger tech aficionados. The rise of voice-activation has been driven by people who are older and more affluent.

“This is not just a ‘young people’s technology’ like video gaming, for example. It’s much broader in terms of its appeal. So the adoption curve is going to be a bit different than with previous technologies. To start, connected home devices are not the cheapest products. But it depends on how you consider them: if you think of them as a computer, they’re generally not that expensive. If you think of them as a novelty, then you might consider them a bit pricey. For people who can afford these devices, voice-activated devices are quite practical.”

Here are some of the topline findings of Pandora’s study, which was based on interviews with 444 U.S. adults who own a voice-activated smart speaker: Amazon Echo, Dot, Tap, or Google Home:

  • Voice-enabled home devices are creating a rise in audio consumption and music. On a weekly basis, 69 percent of people are regularly tuning into audio content on their voice-enabled smart speakers with 58 percent tuning into music for an average of 4 hours and 34 minutes per week.
  • We now search, make inquiries and buy with our voices. 46 percent of people are checking the weather, 42 percent get a joke, “Easter egg” or converse, and 40 percent are asking general questions on where to find a store or how to cook a particular recipe. 29 percent plan to make purchases with top items being technology, household goods and beauty products.
  • Adoption is beyond fast. While it took many years for there to be multiple TVs in the home, 1 out of 3 people already have 2 or more voice-enabled devices across different rooms in their home.
  • These devices are not just for the young and tech-savvy. 40 percent of these device owners are between the ages of 35-54 with younger Gen Z and Millennials, 18-34 (35 percent) coming in second (35 percent). 
  • Voice-activated devices are also social. 77 percent of people are listening to music on these devices with friends and family: creating new ways for advertisers to engage multiple members of the household at home.

What Does Voice Mean For Marketers?

When looking at the the most popular usage patterns Pandora’s study notes, it’s worth considering whether voice-activation is for all marketers — or just some who can meet a direct question-and-answer response that depends on a certain immediate need.

Can voice-activated assistants have greater impact on the purchase a consumer packaged goods product, as opposed to, say, buy a car or real estate?

“From a short-term perspective, yes it appears that brands that serve immediate needs (like CPG products) are best positioned to capitalize on Smart Speakers,” says Degroote. “This is another way of search functionality, only this time done through voice. Users are already turning to smart speakers and voice assistants to talk, search, entertain, shop, etc in moments where they may have used a screen in the past.

“However, data from a follow up study on the Pandora Soundboard suggests that Voice Assistants are going to be key referral sources for a whole range of consumer needs,” she adds.

Around 60 percent said that they’ll use Smart Speakers to find stores and business locations, suggest entertainment content like TV shows and movies, and make restaurant recommendations in the future.

“We can easily see this evolving to Voice Assistants being the first ‘port-of-call’ on how to maximize tax deductions, or develop a training routine or physiotherapy exercises –a perfect opportunity for more service-based industries to deliver their messaging and offer their services to consumers,” Degroote says.

Advertising And The Company Of Others

As Pandora’s research suggests, the use of voice may have a more social aspect to it as opposed to the smartphone, which has come to represent the most personal of “personal computing.”

Does that mean the advertising we’re used to seeing on mobile and social channels will need to reflect that the voice-activation experience is not necessarily “solo.” What impact is that social aspect likely to have — or should have — on marketing strategies aimed at leveraging smart speakers?

“Brands need to be aware of messaging to consumers on Smart Speakers, or any Connected Home device for that matter (Smart TVs, Fridges, Games Consoles),” Degroote says. “On Pandora, the majority of our listening is on mobile which usually dictates a one-to-one creative approach.”

If a listener is in their car listening via their Connected Dash, the situation changes — they could be with their children or by themselves, which may change the way a brand wants to communicate with them and “show them they know them,” Degroote notes.

“We estimate that over 50 percent of listening via Connected Home devices is done in the company of others, which gives brands the opportunity to reach many listeners at once during a number of moments and occasions,” she adds. “Being able to serve a contextual message to a father playing with his kids on the weekend, or a couple hosting a dinner party for their old college friends on Saturday night provides marketers a great opportunity to reach consumers at key moments that create relevance for their products.”

For Edison’s Rosin, who notes he’s something of an outlier among digital assistant owners: he has one voice-activated device in his kitchen and one in his bedroom. Most people tend to have them in their living room. And that will have a significant affect in the experience that people expect from the media and ads they receive from these devices.

“There is plenty of evidence that most people are using these devices while they’re together, as opposed to being alone,” Rosin says. “Audio has been hot for awhile, and the combination of audio and shared interactivity, suggests that voice and listening is only going to become more central in the way people use computers.”

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What’s Driving The Growth Of Connected Health Devices?

More than 40 percent of U.S. broadband households now own a Connected Health product, up from 37 percent in 2016 and 33 percent in 2015, notes tech research consultancy Parks Associates.

That report buttresses other industry forecasts looking ahead to tech developments in the intersection of connected devices and artificial intelligence. For example, eMarketer has forecast the value of the “Internet of Health Things” will hit $163 billion by 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.1 percent between 2015 and 2020.

And within the the next five years the healthcare sector is projected to be “number one” in the top 10 industries for Internet of Things app development. As a separate Accenture report notes, the insurance industry is primed for AI.

The mainstreaming of on-demand technologies that have changed the way people find restaurants and share information with friends online is altering the methods that doctors are “discovered” and engaged by existing and potential patients already.  The use of reviews by patients through platforms like ZocDoc is one case in point.

Is there anything on the horizon that will serve as an alternative means of finding a doctor. Will Siri or Alexa or Cortana likely recommend nearby doctors in the future? It’s a matter of time, Parks Associates’ analysis suggests.

“The steady increase in consumer adoption of connected health products bodes well for the ongoing healthcare practice transformation,” said Harry Wang, Senior Director of Research, Parks Associates.

GeoMarketing: In terms of the Connected Home, as well as devices like Amazon Echo and smart watches, can you put the state of Connected Health in context? How big is this area versus other areas, such as wearables or the Connected Car in terms of consumer adoption?

Harry Wang: Connected Health is intertwined with connected home technology and wearable device industry therefore adoption of these technologies will help connected health industry grow.

We include wearables that directly benefit consumers’ health and wellbeing, such as fitness trackers, smart watch with health & fitness tracking capability as connected health devices (which include connected medical devices, e.g., a BPM, or connected wellness devices, e.g. a Fitbit) from a device adoption perspective, adoption of connected health products as a whole category is perhaps on par with smart home device as a whole category (thermostats, door locks), but ahead of connected cars (depending on its definition). Individually speaking, fitness tracker and smart watch with fitness/wellness features leads with 12 percent adoption each.

Are there any particular use cases that are driving Connected Health? For example, are we mainly seeing growth in Connected Health from wearables like fitness trackers?

Connected health is more than devices. Software and services are actually more exciting. Health and wellness apps are used by more than 40 percent of consumers in the U.S., and access to remote care services (those pioneered by Teledoc and MDlive) is on the rise.

Besides these general categories, the connected health market has many unique, high growth, and niche use cases that are gaining distribution channels and consumer’s mindshare.

These innovations that target specific use cases may be driven more by healthcare providers than consumer marketing efforts.

For instance, Health insurers start to fund/subsidize diabetes prevention programs, hospitals begin to contract digital rehab software makers to offer in-home technology-assisted rehab services.

Each use case has significant room to grow but as their target market is not the entire consumer population, they would never reach the traditional mainstream status.

But for healthcare providers and insurers, if these technologies can help them address the issue of the 80 percent of the healthcare spending by 20 percent population, mainstream adoption is irrelevant.

Is there anything in the Connected Health space that will help doctors, hospitals, and medical clinics, achieve greater discovery through the use of these IoT devices?

We do believe that many IoT devices/software that touch upon people’s life therefore contributing to doctor’s understanding of patient condition and helping patients self-manage their conditions will gain more adoption. Siri may one day evolve to answer health related questions from patients or Echo will collect patient self-reported data to doctors.

Applications targeting health and wellness needs of consumers will find their way to a connected home, a connected car, or a connected speaker platform.

Many remote care applications are mobile driven so consumers can talk to a doctor via video on smartphones, and healthcare system will rely more on these everyday consumer devices to engage patients particularly in preventive care areas.

Barriers still exist; it takes time for consumer and doctor’s habits to replace old ones. But we are getting there.

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About 14 Percent Of iPhone Owners Plan To Buy Apple Homepod

While it may seem that Amazon Alexa and Okay Google are already firmly established in the voice-activated Connected Home landscape, Apple’s forthcoming entry into that space with Homepod may seem like an uphill battle, but a Raymond James analysis suggests that you can never underestimate the iPhone maker’s devoted customer base.

Raymond James survey of 500 consumers found that 14 percent of iPhone owners are interested in buying Apple’s smart speaker product, Homepod, which, debuted last month at WWDC forum.

To put that number in perspective, Raymond James considered the anticipation for the Apple Watch, which has has had a mixed consumer reception in the marketplace.

Three years ago, when the Apple Watch was first announced, iPhone owners’ purchase intention of that product was only 6 percent.

Homepod’s positioning starts with entertainment, but it doesn’t end there.

“If we combine with those that intend to own a Beats wireless speaker, [Homepod ownership intent] exceeds the ownership interest in both speech enabled speaker leader Amazon, and Bluetooth speaker leader, Bose,” Raymond James analysts Tavis McCourt and Mike Koban write. “Initial interest in HomePod seems better than the tepid media reaction would suggest.”

In terms of how the voice-activated assistant space is shaping up, Parks Associates has noted that adoption of digital voice-activated assistants more than doubled in Q1 as 76 percent of consumers having used spoken commands to their connected device. As such, the timing could hardly be better for Apple’s entry into the space currently commanded by Amazon and Google.

According to Forrester, 33 percent of U.S. online adults say they use intelligent agents like Google Now or Cortana, Forrester notes.

In its outlook for the connected intelligence market in 2017, eMarketer projects that 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month for sudden rise of 128.9 percent over last year.

Elsewhere, the native digital assistant installed base is set to exceed 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, which is more than the world population, according to a report by British consultancy Ovum.

At the moment, eMarketer has Amazon’s Echo device with a vast lead amounting to a 70.6 percent share of users in that space. Google Home, which only launched last October, will have to catch up as it has just 23.8 percent of the market.

While the role of Amazon and Google in the Connected Intelligence is largely about dominating the paths to online/offline commerce, Apple appears to be taking a slightly different path.

With Homepod, which is powered by Apple’s pioneering connected intelligence voice-assistant Siri, the company is placing emphasizing the new device as an entertainment hub first, and a Connected Home utility second.

As such, as many consumers still are unsure of how best to use Alexa or Okay Google to initiate a transaction or find a local business, Homepod users may also come at those skills more naturally, having been trained to use voice-activation for fun first. That mirrors the initial use of the iPhone, which then saw its use cases expand over the past decade, changing the way all consumers and businesses interact.

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