From 4K displays to 2nd generation wearables – a primer for marketers on the next must-have consumer tech

Members of the IPA's Brand Technology Group provide an industry view on the impact technology is having on brands, consumers and agencies.

Sony's forthcoming 4K smartphone

Consumers are always demanding bigger and better in their electronics: camera quality, sharper displays, improved battery life etc – and themes at this year’s IFA conference in Berlin were of a similar vein.

The resounding trend on the show floor was the adoption of 4K displays as an established format across a number of screen and devices, and for streaming standardisation.

So what is 4K and why should I care?

4K, or ultra-high-definition, is four times the quality of standard full HD or 1080p, as most consumers know it. Despite some questions over its necessity, 4K offers a dramatically improved image quality thanks to the pixel density of the actual physical display.

Touted as 'the next generation of broadcast format' at previous electronics shows, 4K is nothing new. But until this point, the lack of rich enough content to consume on 4K displays has meant adoption by the mainstream market has been a big challenge. But it looks like things are about to change. With services such Netflix and YouTube now supporting the format, it won’t be long until more follow suit.

This year we saw all of the major electronics brands release new 4K product, but it was Sony who stole the show with the world’s first 4K smartphone. With a release date still to be confirmed, the media went wild with the announcement that 4K will be built into future Z5 phones – a growing contender in the smartphone space. For me, this sums up the demand on brands and content creators to seriously consider 4K as a format and produce material at higher quality for it.

Consumers have now come to expect large screens and higher quality displays as standard at home, Higher quality content however, is still lagging behind. But the inevitable mass adoption of 4k will force content producers such as us to step up to the mark. This could, and probably should, be seen as an opportunity to experiment with what’s possible with that increase in quality; think richer colours and deeper blacks, not only on phones, but on the increasing number of screens in the home.

2nd generation wearables

As the most recent development in the personal electronics space, we’ve all dedicated a lot of screen time to wearable tech over the past 18 months. Brands haven’t missed out on the hype either, releasing a huge range of smart watches and fitness trackers to the market. But so far, there’s been a lot of ‘tech for tech’s sake’ and few have actually looked at the key motivations or practical factors in the adoption of wearables, or the personal experience each user expects to have with their device.

But it feels as though we are on the cusp of change in this area, with a lot learnt from mistakes made in the first generation of devices. It’s becoming more obvious that these second generation, more 'human-centric' wearables are focusing on simplicity and automation to fit around you, rather than you having to change your behaviour to use them. For you to wear them, they have to work for you.

Prime examples include the Samsung Gear S2 and Moto 360 2, with their style and positioning changed so they don’t feel like a smartphones trying to be watches, but watches with smart functionality. And with various interface tweaks and personalisation options, the devices can match the users’ unique style.

IoT paving the way for the real automated home

The internet of things is no new thing, and although we’re still figuring out how it can truly benefit our everyday lives, it’s attracting a lot of attention from consumers. We’re seeing an increasing range of connected devices in the home – with an average of 3.5 in the UK market alone (not including mobile phones). These generally work independently to one another, with very specific tasks built around a family’s engagement and behaviors – such as alarms, heating, lighting, robot mowers etc...

But in the last couple of months, there has been a growing interest from technology manufacturers wanting to help us control the entire ecosystem of the smart home. This could present a greater insight into user behaviour, possible automation of basic human tasks and processes, and adaptive environments depending on levels of inhabitancy and consumption.

Following on from its acquisition of SmartThings back in 2014, Samsung is certainly making a big play into this space with its Smart Things Home Starter Kit, which includes a Multi Sensor, Presence Sensor, Power Outlet and Motion Sensors, all with a hub to controlled by your smartphone. Similar to the war for pocket devices between Android and iOS, the battle for the brand which controls the best connected home is certainly hotting up.

So although the IFA did pique my interest at some level, there were lots of gimmicky devices and ‘innovations’ with little tangible benefits for consumers, and few real leaps in innovation. I left the show somewhat unimpressed and unsatisfied. In my opinion, CES is still the king of consumer electronics shows. And with a number of big announcements expected in January, including flexible mobile displays, greater adoption of VR and ‘body’ wearables, there will be lots to look forward to.

Will Harvey is innovation lead at VCCP and a guest contributor to the IPA’s Brand Technology Group blog

The IPA Brand Technology Group is exploring the impact technology has on the consumer experience. It aims to bring together the best agencies and brands to provide a single point of view and leadership on key challenges for the communications industry and the wider technology community.

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