During this time of year, I always enjoy reading the trend articles for what people see coming over the next year. They tend to be broader looks at technology, business or politics as a whole. This post looks at the trends that I think every product manager who is responsible for a web or mobile product should be considering.
- Data – Big data has been talked about a lot and gotten a lot of hype throughout 2014. The question here for product managers with digital products is what data are you currently gathering today and what data should you be gathering? This starts by thinking about how you can use data. Today, data has more value than ever before. For example, consider how IBM harvested supermarket data to predict foodborne illness. Working with an international client, ITX has helped derive a strategy to leverage technology to use self-reported or crowd sourced data from farmers. This data helps identify and predict pest infestations and infectious outbreaks to help those farmers respond quicker, with appropriate pesticides and strategies for pest management. The platform, when built, would also help the company predict market demand and respond more quickly to changes within the market. What data do you have that could be used in unique and useful ways to provide value to your business and your customers? What challenges that your customers face could you answer with data? These questions you should be thinking about and brainstorming with your teams throughout 2015.
- User Experience – The user experience of software products is critical. Things have shifted in the last few years where today the majority of people want self-serve solutions to quickly solve their service problems. They don’t want to have to call a human being (or chat) and you don’t want that either. However, to make this happen your web and mobile products must be intuitive and easy to use. This has always been the case, but as more and more of your customers come to rely on your products, you need to make this a top priority. You need to not only plan for a great experience up front, but you also must be measuring the experience (abandon rates, usage, etc.) so that you can continually improve the experience based on what is and isn’t working. You must leverage data to study how users are using your product, what is engaging to them and what actions they are taking so you can work to constantly make that experience better.
- Smart Phone Dominance – This continued trend should come at no surprise to anyone, especially after the influx of smart phone users over the past few years. Today, there are people who never go to your web application from a desktop – they only use your mobile app or site, and this number continues to climb upwards. You need to think mobile first and how your product can be used effectively by a mobile audience. Beyond making functionality work on a mobile device, you also need to consider crossovers and transitions: For example, when a customer is using multiple devices (web and phone for example) is the transition between using one device and another seamless? If the user starts using your product on their phone and then switches to a computer, does the system make that as seamless as possible for the user?
- Security – From Target and Sony to eBay, big companies had embarrassing security breaches in 2014. These breaches of such well-known brands have since put security front and center in people’s minds. You need to make sure that your products are secure- that they can withstand everything from a denial of service attack (even at the API level) to hacks. OWSAP (The Open Web Application Security Project) Top 10 Programming Vulnerabilities should be investigated, as well as utilizing security scanners and static code analysis tools to determine any vulnerabilities you may have. From our experience, it isn’t just the Sony’s of this world that are being attacked. Hackers target companies of all sizes and precautions should be taken to protect your online properties.
Longer term trends
These trends may not be here today, but you can rest assured that they are coming. This means you should be experimenting with them now so that you are ready to hit the ground running when these trends become mainstream. This should involve thought experiments where the logic is considered, if X existed, how would it impact my product, to actual small experimentation using these technologies. You can also create a cutting edge reputation by being an early mover with these trends.
In no particular order, we start with wearables and watches. Unless you are in the fitness/sports industry, in which case these are things you should have incorporated today, these need to be observed closely. We will soon learn if Apple can do to smart watches what they have done with music players, phones and tablets. Even if they aren’t as successful, there are going to be a lot of smart watches in the near future. It is important to begin thinking about how your interface and functionality can change to take advantage of something on your wrist and always on.
The Internet of things, or as I like to think of it, sensors everywhere. As sensors become cheaper and more powerful you are seeing them come up all over the place. This produces a ton of data and allows physical items to be integrated further with digital products. Not all products will need sensors, but those that do will have a lot more data to use to provide insight, recommendations and ultimately, value. This integrates nicely with the data trend mentioned above.
Virtual Reality and head mounted displays could change how we view and interact with our digital products. There is a lot of activity here but most is early on. Google Glass has been met with some harsh reviews and feedback, but Google is one to learn from this feedback and come out with a much better product. Then there is Facebook’s Oculus Rift, which may come out this year, and Samsung has their Gear VR. Initially, these will be used for gaming, but we should be exploring how interfaces could change and be made to allow browsing and viewing data in virtual worlds. This won’t happen quickly, but this has the potential to unlock us from being tied to our computer screens.
Intel provided some great demos recently of their vision for the future at CES. Their RealSense 3D depth-sensing camera technology allows interacting with computers in new and different ways: from jackets that can sense their surroundings to help visually impaired to laptops that allow hand gesturing to interact with them. The ultimate goal being 3D holographic displays and drones that know their surroundings. RealSense is coming fast with many products planned for this year.
This leads to the biggest long-term trend; the digitization of everything, or the merging of the digital and physical world. This has been going on for years and we are entering the next big phase being driven by 3-D printers (did you see they “emailed” a wrench to the space station). We are seeing more and more these worlds coming together. Virtual Reality should accelerate this, getting us closer and closer to the holodeck from Star Trek. In the meantime, what isn’t digital will go digital and everything will have sensors recording data.
Although we can’t 100% predict which trends will be the biggest for 2015, it is clear that technology continues to grow and be a part of the daily lives of your users. In order to stay ahead of your competitors, it is vital to consider these trends and start thinking about the impact they can have on both your business, and your customers. It is critical to spend time planning and thinking about the future and ensuring that you have a clear and executable strategy to differentiate your product and your business.