How and Why Businesses Are Adopting Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

At the 2018 Consumer Electronics show, robots, voice assistants, connected cars, and even connected cities created buzz. Augmented reality and virtual reality – not so much, with the exception of augmented reality applications in the automotive industry.

But proponents of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) should take heart: the real action with AR and VR isn’t happening with consumer products, anyway. The compelling stories about AR and VR are happening on the enterprise side.

Throughout 2017, companies such as Audi, Ford, IKEA, Sephora, and Walmart shared examples of how they’re using AR and VR to run their businesses more effectively. For example:

  • Augmented reality simplifies the purchase decision for IKEA customers: IKEA released Place, an app that makes it possible for shoppers to see how IKEA furniture might look in their living spaces.

https://youtu.be/-xxOvsyNseY

With augmented reality, users overlay simpler forms of content on to their physical spaces, usually by using their mobile phones. Niantic’s Pokémon GO and forthcoming Harry Potter games are examples. With Place, users overlay 3D models of furniture into their physical spaces to test for fit, which takes reduces the risk of buying a sofa or bookshelf before carting it home. Continue reading

How Apple Got Its Groove Back

Three years ago, Apple looked like a music dinosaur. The company was reeling from the embarrassment of foisting upon iTunes customers digital copies of U2’s Songs of Innocence – an incident that laid bare Apple’s reliance on downloading at a time when the music industry was marching inexorably toward streaming. But Apple has regained its groove, and the purchase of irresistibly fun and popular music discovery app Shazam is but one indication.

After licking its wounds in the aftermath of the U2 debacle, Apple focused its considerable resources on launching a streaming service, Apple Music, in 2015 — and then proceeded to show how quickly one of the world’s most powerful brands can right the ship.

Apple Music now boasts 30 million paid subscribers. Although its biggest rival Spotify has double that amount, Apple has eclipsed nearly everyone else in the streaming industry within 24 months, making it and Amazon the only alternatives to Spotify to lead the streaming music business. Just as remarkably, Apple had developed its own brand of cool by building a well-regarded catalog and affiliating itself with the right artists through endeavors such as Beats 1 radio.

A Deep, Well-Curated Catalog

Apple Music’s mix of algorithms and human curation appears to be working. The company put the right talent in place to curate its catalog, starting with Scott Plagenhoef, Apple’s global head of programming and editorial. Formerly editor of the oh-so-hip Pitchfork, he joined Beats Music in 2012, and then joined Apple in 2014 when the Apple bought Beats. And although Apple Music’s playlists haven’t gained as much acclaim as Spotify’s vaunted artificial intelligence-based curation, Apple is earning respect. Recently Apple Music scored a major coup when hip-hop tastemaker Andrew Barber agreed to curate Apple Music’s New Chicago playlist, which provides exposure for up-and-coming Chicago talent as Barber’s Fake Shore Drive blog has done for years.

Artist Affiliation

No longer is Apple the brand that forced uncool U2 down our throats. Apple Music is now where you go to stream radio shows hosted by the likes of Charli XCX, Drake, Frank Ocean, Continue reading

Will Apple Take Augmented Reality Mainstream?

Apple critics have been quiet lately.

The company is worth more than $900 billion after beating Wall Street’s expectations in its November 2 earnings report. The iPhone 8 is selling better than expected. Consumers are lining up to buy its most expensive iPhone ever, the X. And the iPad just might be making a comeback.

Tim Cook is talking like a visionary, positioning himself and Apple on the cusp of changes in technology and human experience. For instance, Cook recently declared on an Apple earnings call that augmented reality is “mainstream” and that “Apple is the only company” that could have made augmented reality mainstream.

His comments evoke Mark Zuckerberg’s bold announcement that Facebook intends to get one billion people to use virtual reality. And, like Zuckerberg, Cook is being ambitious, considering that only 12 percent of the U.S. population is expected to use AR at least once a month in 2017. But there is reason for AR backers to be optimistic: usage of AR is growing by 30 percent over 2016 according to eMarketer.

Apple’s strategy to accelerate the uptake of augmented reality is to provide a development platform for the creation of AR content and to  rely on popular Apple devices as Trojan Horses to deliver that content to consumers.

But to realize the potential of augmented reality for widespread consumer and corporate use, Apple might need to do more — such as the creation of an augmented reality headset.

Augmented Reality Breaking Through

Augmented reality refers to an experience that alters our perception of reality by overlaying computer-generated content on to a physical space. Augmented reality is being used in businesses ranging from hospitals to amusement parks to train and entertain by enhancing our worlds with digital content such as holograms and 3D objects with which we can interact. In the automotive industry, augmented reality might enhance driving by overlaying content such as signage on a driver’s windshield, reducing the need for the driver to strain to read street signs while navigating. For AR to break through to more mainstream consumer use, the experience needs:

  • Great content.
  • A ubiquitous, user-friendly delivery mechanism.

Apple provides the latter through the manufacture of its devices and is enabling content creation by providing the necessary tools and media platform.

Apple’s Role Continue reading

Apple Extends Its Reach into Healthcare

Apple continues to shape the future of healthcare.

At its September 12 special event, Apple CEO Tim Cook and COO Jeff Williams announced something less sexy than the $1,000 iPhone X but no less important: new health and fitness features through watchOS 4, the operating system that powers the Apple Watch. They include:

  • Improved heart monitoring. The Apple Watch already performs basic heart-monitoring with Cardiogram (In fact, according to Williams, the Apple Watch is the most-used heart rate monitor in the world.) But with watchOS 4 (available September 19), Apple Watch will also report resting heart rate and recovery heart rate (the latter metric tells you how quickly your heart rate drops after a workout). As Williams said, a lower resting heart rate and a quicker recovery rate can be signs of improved fitness.

  • Alerts on elevated resting heart rates. Williams noted that many Apple customers wrote to Apple about how their Apple Watches helped them detect unusually high heart rates at unexpected times. So the Apple Watch now notifies owners when the device detects an elevated heart rate and the owner does not appear to be active — thus alerting the watch owner about potential heart problems.
  • Better support for your workout. For example through the GymKit technology platform, watch OS 4 will make it possible for people to sync fitness data between their Apple Watches and cardio machines they use at the gym, thus delivering more accurate fitness information such as calories burned or distance traveled during your workout. The sync feature will only work with newer pieces of gym equipment — so that functionality might be limited.

Apple also announced that the company is working with Stanford Medical Center to determine whether the Apple Watch can accurately detect abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias. As noted by Jessica Conditt of Engadget, Apple would like for the Apple Watch to be able to detect common – but often undiagnosed — heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation. According to a study done by Cardiogram and the University of California, San Francisco, the Apple Watch already detects the most common type of heart arrhythmia with a 97 percent accuracy rate. With the Apple Heart Study, Apple will manage its own research with Stanford Medical Center.

“In our Initial studies, Apple Watch has been effective at surfacing irregular rhythms,” Williams said. He noted that the Apple Heart Study “will use data from Apple Watch and Continue reading

Is HomePod Apple’s Death Star in the Music Streaming Wars?

Apple’s newly announced HomePod smart speaker is more than Apple’s answer to Amazon Echo and Google Home in the battle for your home – it’s quite possibly Apple’s major advantage in the music streaming wars.

In unveiling the HomePod June 5 at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple announced that the voice-activated speaker will be a music-first experience that combines both the quality of high-fidelity Sonos speaker and the intelligent interface of the Amazon Echo – with a focus on providing users access to the Apple Music catalog. As Apple noted in a press release,

Designed to work with an Apple Music subscription for access to over 40 million songs, HomePod provides deep knowledge of personal music preferences and tastes and helps users discover new music.

At WWDC, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said the speaker has “amazing sound and incredible intelligence that will reinvent home music.”

Why the focus on a high-fidelity experience with an emphasis on music? One reason is that Apple wants to be the leading music streaming provider – badly. After disrupting the music industry through iTunes and the iPod, Apple found itself looking behind the times when consumer tastes shifted from downloading songs on iTunes to streaming them on apps such as Spotify. And looking outdated is strange ground for Apple. Apple’s desire to play catch up with streaming was a big reason why the company paid $3 billion for Beats in 2014. Months after buying Beats, Apple launched its own service, Apple Music, in 2015.

The good news for Apple is that within two years, Apple Music has become the Number Two streaming service as measured by paid subscribers. And these are heady times for streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify. In 2016, for the first time ever, streaming music platforms generated the majority of the U.S. music industry’s revenues. As the RIAA noted, the biggest contributor to growth was a doubling of revenues from paid streaming services. But for Apple, there is also some bad news:

  • Amazon has been rapidly encroaching upon music streaming. It offers a limited service to Amazon Prime customers (Amazon Prime Music) and recently launched a subscription service, Amazon Music Unlimited.

Spotify and Amazon are significant competitors with their own strengths and weaknesses:

  • Spotify enjoys the strong brand affiliation with music, its customer base, and outstanding personalized playlists, but the company is losing money.

  • Amazon enjoys an advantage with its deep pockets and the popularity of Echo speaker, which provide a natural platform for streaming music. But Amazon Music Unlimited is an upstart (and Amazon Prime Music is a feature of Amazon Prime, not a pure streaming service, per se).

The Echo factor is big. Echo has experienced astounding growth to dominate the market for voice-activated home speakers, as people become more comfortable with the voice interface. It’s like a Swiss Army knife for doing everything from controlling the temperature in your home to ordering products.

And in addition, Echo is also a platform for playing music through voice commands (“Play the new Lorde song”), something Spotify does not offer. In 2017, according to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month, and 71 percent of them will use Echo. (Google Home has the second highest marketshare behind Echo, at 24 percent, but Google does not release user figures for its Google Play streaming service.)

No wonder Amazon offers Amazon Music Unlimited at its lowest price to owners of Amazon Echo speakers: Echo is a Trojan Horse for Amazon’s music streaming product.

But Swiss Army knives, while being useful, are not great at everything. The Echo is not engineered specifically to listen to music. HomePod is. At WWDC, Apple Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Phil Schiller said that HomePod will provide the high quality of a Sonos speakers and the smart interface of the Echo.

“These aren’t smart speakers, Schiller said of Sonos. “They don’t sound so great when you listen to music,” he said of the Echo. But HomePod will sound great and act as a home musicologist, he said.

He indicated that the HomePod will make it possible for consumers to call up music using complex voice searches and then listen to music through a product that provides state-of-the-art sound including spatial awareness, which adjusts the audio depending on where you are sitting in the room.

But the ace in the hole is the integration with Apple Music. As Apple announced,

By saying, “Hey Siri, I like this song,” HomePod and Apple Music become the perfect musicologist, learning preferences from hundreds of genres and moods, across tens of thousands of playlists, and these music tastes are shared across devices. Siri can also handle advanced searches within the music library, so users can ask questions like “Hey Siri, who’s the drummer in this?” or create a shared Up Next queue with everyone in the home. HomePod, Apple Music and Siri deliver the best music experience in the home that streams ad-free directly to HomePod.

HomePod will also provide the same functionality as Echo, providing functions ranging from turning on the lights in your home to providing sports and weather information.

The HomePod should be available in December at a cost of $349, a cost that is significantly higher than Amazon Echo and Google’s own Home speaker. By pricing the HomePod at the high end, Amazon is banking on consumers:

  • Accepting Apple’s position as a premium brand.
  • Caring enough to pay more for better sound.
  • Subscribing to Apple Music because it’s so easy to listen to music with voice commands on HomePod. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple offers an incentive for bundling Apple Music paid subscriptions and HomePod.)

It’s an interesting bet. Consumers have been indifferent to sound quality on mobile devices, not caring enough about sound quality to buy high-end mobile streaming products such as Pono. Meanwhile in the home environment, the growth and popularity of Sonos speakers for years showed that people would pay for premium sound  – but then Amazon’s encroachment on Sonos suggest that consumers were willing to sacrifice the fidelity of Sonos for the convenience of Echo. And now Apple believes consumers will do the same with HomePod.

Apple won’t put a dent in Echo’s 71-percent market share anytime soon, but Apple doesn’t need to. Apple is not offering a utility that competes on price as Echo does. Apple is selling a high-end experience first and utility second. Apple Music is central to that experience. Will HomePod be a catalyst for Apple Music to eat into Spotify’s lead?

How Well Do You Manage Your Brand’s Moving Parts?

Consumers often associate a brand with its sensory elements – what we can see and touch. The sensory aspects create emotional connections that form the building blocks of a brand. But a successful brand requires many moving parts to operate in sync, and not all of them are obvious to the customer. My recent experience with Apple illustrates the point.

I live in a house of Apple fans. My wife, daughter, and I all own Apple products because they are user friendly and well designed. We’re also Apple stock holders. But even one of the world’s most valuable brands commits its share of misfires. In 2013, I bought a MacBook Pro that turned out to be a lemon. The unit suffered one malady after another, ranging from a broken track pad to frequent hard drive crashes. Each time I took the unit to the store for repair, the Apple service technicians were responsive and skillful, but the moment they fixed one problem, another would appear like an annoying mole in a Whack-A-Mole game.

Days ago, after the laptop experienced a meltdown, I visited the Apple store in Oakbrook, Illinois, and asked to speak to the manager. I explained that the MacBook was plagued with problems but that I wasn’t quite ready to buy a new one. Was there any kind of accommodation Apple could make even though the MacBook’s warranty had expired?

As it turned out, she could make an accommodation, and she did. After consulting the laptop’s extensive repair record, she replaced it with a new MacBook Pro at no cost. The moment the technician brought out the sealed box containing a silver laptop, my heart sang. When we unboxed the unit, I was so excited I snapped a photo for my Snapchat followers. The technician helped me get everything set up in the store. Problem solved! I went home a happy customer with my faith in Apple products restored.

The emotional appeal of opening up new laptop, feeling the smooth surface, and getting used to the touch of the new keyboard was a sensory experience and a victory for the Apple brand. And yet, many moving parts needed to work in sync for that moment to happen, some that were visible to me, and some that were not. Let’s break it down:

  • The manager possessed customer empathy. She listened to my problem and apologized for my bad experience. Her empathetic manner set the right tone. Behind the scenes, someone in Apple HR whom I may never meet made a smart hire.
  • As empathetic as she was, the manager also needed a way to verify my complaint. Sometimes customer unhappiness results from user error or negligence. Fortunately Apple’s technicians have a policy of meticulously recording every service issue behind the scenes. The store manager was able to see for herself the machine’s trouble-ridden service history.
  • The manager was empowered to replace my laptop at no charge. She did not have to spend the evening checking corporate policies and getting permission. As a result, I didn’t have to wait for hours or days to learn the final verdict. And she was not the first Apple employee I’ve met who has the authority to make judgment calls on the spot. Her ability to do so is a reflection of Apple’s culture.
  • The replacement product needed to be in stock for the magical moment to happen right then and there – which requires effective logistics management behind the scenes. If you’ve ever heard the “Sorry, the part is not in stock” line as you are on the cusp of making a purchase, you know what a letdown it is when you realize you’re in for a wait. For me, waiting for a resolution was unacceptable. I need my laptop to do my job as a writer and consultant. My laptop is my office.
  • As I noted, the packaging added to the experience – the equivalent of the attractive design of a new Shinola watch that creates an immediate emotional appeal.
  • The technician possessed empathy, too. He gave me a tour of the new MacBook, pointing out a few of its features that are different than my old one, and he helped me set up the new unit. In fact, all the Apple technicians I have worked with over the past few years have possessed tremendous empathy.

And many other important elements came into play that evening, which I almost take for granted, such as the ease of scheduling a repair appointment in Apple’s Genius Bar; the attractive, warm layout of the store; the comfortable furniture; and the spacious desks that make it possible for you to hang out while you’re waiting. Being able to comfortably sit and read or chat while you’re at the Genius Bar certainly softens the blow of having to get a repair done.

The layout of the Genius Bar also encourages collaboration between the technician and the customer. It feels like you’re sitting at your dining room table at home when you’re at the Genius Bar. There is no barrier between you and the Apple employee. No desks. No registers. The design creates an approachability that puts you at ease – a little detail that acts as a calming influence when you’re experiencing a service issue.

At the end of a long day, driving to the store to return a broken product is low on the list of things you want to do. But the inviting Apple store environment helps restore your spirits. At the same time, just to make the store welcoming, Apple needs to employ designers and retail specialists behind the scenes. Here again, unseen elements — the employees responsible for the store design and management of the Genius Bar — affect what I experience.

Finally, there is the variable over which Apple has no control: me, the customer. Ultimately the Apple brand comes down to my perceptions. And perception is reality. After getting my new laptop, I had a decision to make: how did I feel about what happened when I got a new laptop? Was I going to take the attitude of “Well, that’s the least they can do,” or was I going to be so happy that I’d blog about my experience? It has been said that your customer owns your brand, but businesses can pull many levers to influence a customer’s brand perception. Apple pulled all the right ones.

Now it’s up to Apple to reinforce trust through the reliable performance of my new laptop.

How the Apple Watch May Simplify Your Next Doctor’s Visit

Doctors and dentists are not exactly renowned for managing the flow of information in their offices effectively. How many times have you been to a doctor’s or dentist’s office and gotten the sense that providers spend an inordinate amount of time checking in with administrative staff for patient records? A software provider named Simplifeye aims to make work flow in the medical office more efficient by storing information on wearables such as the Apple Watch.

By having patient information stored on the Apple Watch, providers always have instant access to patient records and thus an make themselves more efficient and cut out the downtime associated with waiting for administrative staff to deliver records.

As reported in TechCrunch, Simplifeye has obtained $3 million in funding. In addition, the good news for Simplifeye is good news for Apple. As I reported recently, Apple seeks to be the data backbone for patient care. Having its hardware and software integrated into companies such as Simplifeye helps Apple deliver on its strategy by strengthening the Apple data infrastructure in healthcare.

Simplifeye is set up to be an Apple shop, so to speak (one of its founders worked at Apple) although Simplifeye also offers a mobile app for providers who don’t want to use wearables.

Whether the Apple Watch has penetrated the consumer sector adequately is an open question. Apple officially does not report Apple Watch sales. But the signs are that the Apple Watch is making inroads in both the health provider and payer side (as witnessed by mass purchases of the Apple Watch by Aetna). And Simplifeye applies to dental care, too. As reported in Dentistry Today, “The Simplifeye app works in conjuction with the Apple Watch and allows dentists and staff to view the day’s schedule, know who’s in the waiting room, which operatories are ready for patients, and more. This system will allow you to flow patients through your office more quickly and efficiently, and your patients will be thrilled with the quick turnaround time.”

My recently published ebook, Dr. Apple Will See You Now, offers more insight into Apple’s direction in healthcare. Meanwhile, up-and-comers such as Simplifeye are helping Apple influence the future of healthcare.

Image source: dentistrytoday.com

Dr. Apple Will See You Now

Apple has been defined by consumer product innovations such as transforming mobile phones from calling devices into data centers. But you won’t find Apple’s future in an Apple store. You’ll need to visit a hospital like Johns Hopkins Medicine.

At Johns Hopkins, physicians provide epilepsy patients with Apple Watches to track their seizures, possible triggers, medications, and side effects. Thanks to a special app developed by Johns Hopkins, the EpiWatch, patients have access to their personal information through a dashboard that also shares data with providers if the patient wants to do so. Patients can also send a message to family members and providers to let them know when the patient is tracking a seizure. Johns Hopkins is collecting this data to eventually understand how to predict seizures before they happen.

Johns Hopkins is one of many healthcare providers working with Apple to help patients manage their wellness and clinical care. Apple is not abandoning its role as creator of consumer devices and software — in fact, Apple is doubling down on devices by carving out a bigger role in healthcare. For the past few years, one of the world’s most valuable brands has acting as the data backbone for patient care, one built on Apple hardware and software. Having changed industries ranging from music to telecommunications, Apple is helping to the healthcare industry make an important and necessary shift toward wellness and clinical treatment.

Apple’s Strategy

Over the past few years, Apple has made some significant product developments, personnel hirings, and corporate acquisitions to make Apple a brand for wellness and clinical care. For example, in 2014 Apple launched HealthKit to give Apple users a central repository to track health and fitness data on their Apple devices. The launch of the Apple Watch positioned Apple more firmly as provider of a consumer health-management wearable. The 2016 acquisition of Gliimpse, a medical data storage and sharing start-up, bolstered Apple’s entry into supporting clinical care with smarter electronic health records. So what, exactly, is Apple’s game plan for healthcare? To sum it up:

Apple’s strategy is to be the data backbone for patient care.

And that patient care strategy — for now — focuses on wellness care (providing services such as fitness and nutrition management designed to keep patients healthy) and clinical care (using data more effectively to help patients manage conditions such as diabetes).

The two key elements of that strategy are:

1). Software for patients and providers to monitor and share data

Through its Apple Health app and the ResearchKit and CareKit application development software frameworks, Apple has been creating a software infrastructure for wellness care, diagnostic care, and medical research on Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches.

So far the real action for Apple is occurring on the provider side for clinical care. For instance, as reported in Forbes, in February 2015, Ochsner Health System in New Orleans launched its “Hypertension Digital Medicine Program,” which relies on HealthKit to empower patients to measure and share with the provider their own blood pressure and heart rates. Oschner adjusts (in real-time, if needed) patients’ medications and lifestyle counseling based on the findings.

The Apple website also contains many examples of health providers applying ResearchKit and CareKit. For instance, Duke University has developed a ResearchKit app that allows physicians to screen and diagnose autism by using their iPhone cameras to do facial recognition checks. The University of Rochester used ResearchKit to build an app for the largest Parkinson’s study in history. According to Apple, “the app helps researchers better understand Parkinson’s disease by using the gyroscope and other iPhone features to measure dexterity, balance, gait, and memory.”

ResearchKit and CareKit have built off HealthKit’s core functionality to give Apple an entree into clinical care. As reported by Alex Webb of Bloomberg, “The ultimate goal of Apple’s medical technology team is to turn HealthKit into a tool that improves diagnoses . . . The system could chip away at two problems that plague the industry and have stumped other specialist firms in the field: interoperability — allowing data to be transferred from hospital to hospital across different databases; and analysis — making it quick and easy for physicians to extrapolate salient information from mountains of data.”

2). Hardware: the Apple Watch and iPhone to create an ever-present device platform

Apple Watch and iPhone are the delivery devices for Apple’s health management software. The iPhone gives Apple an installed user base of 101 million users in the United States, and the Apple Watch a wearable, which is key for managing everyday fitness goals such as nutrition and exercise (because of the convenience of wearables).

The iPhone accounts for 70 percent of Apple’s revenue. For Apple, penetrating healthcare is important to maintain sales growth. After experiencing three straight quarters of slumping sales, Apple recently reported that iPhone demand came roaring back in the first quarter of 2017. Finding new markets such as healthcare should help Apple maintain its leadership

On the other hand, the Apple Watch is still a small enough part of Apple’s ecosystem that its sales are rolled up into Apple’s “other products” category. But Apple Watch is essential to Apple cracking the fitness market. And at Startup Fest Europe in Amsterdam, Apple CEO Tim Cook brashly predicted an era in which everyday people will wonder how they ever got by without their Apple Watches “[b]ecause the holy grail of the watch is being able to monitor more and more of what’s going on in the body. It’s not technologically possible to do it today to the extent that we can imagine, but it will be.”

But consumer usage is only part of the story for Apple Watch — the other is institutional uptake. Hospitals such as Johns Hopkins University and King’s College Hospital in London are using the Apple Watch to do everything from giving patients reminders to take their medicine to collect information about patients’ epileptic seizures in order to better understand epilepsy.

And Apple is collaborating with the health payer side, too. Recently, Aetna announced that the insurer is providing the Apple Watch at no cost to its 50,000 employees “who will participate in the company’s wellness reimbursement program, to encourage them to live more productive, healthy lives.” Aetna is also developing health apps integrated across multiple Apple devices ranging from the iPhone to Apple Watch to handle a host of health management functions ranging from refilling prescription orders to paying for health treatment.

Look for Apple to continue to develop the Apple Watch as a fitness and telemonitoring device. Last year, Apple filed a patent to make the Apple Watch capable of monitoring your heart beat and warning you of an impending heart attack. And recently Apple filed a patent to embed into smart sensors into Apple Watch wrist links. In doing so Apple identified fitness-monitoring capabilities as a potential application of the functional band links.

Will Apple’s Strategy Succeed?

These applications of Apple technology are taking hold for some overlapping reasons, including the advent of pay-for-performance models (in which physicians are rewarded for achieving successful patient outcomes as opposed to volume of patients treated) and the rise of wellness care.

The adoption of pay-for-performance models and an increase in high-deductible insurance plans are contributing to a bigger focus on wellness care — in other words, investing in programs intended to keep patients healthy. The PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) cites wellness care as one of the top five forces shaping the future of healthcare industry over the next decade, with wellness accounting for $276 billion of the $5 trillion U.S. healthcare ecosystem. The Apple Watch and Apple Health position Apple well here.

Moreover, the uptake of pay-for-performance or (outcomes-based compensation models) — in which payers reward healthcare providers for achieving quality-related goals instead of volume of care — plays into Apple’s favor. Here’s why: As noted by Reenita Das of Frost & Sullivan, “To date, the majority outcome-based compensation models are, in reality, performance modifiers built on top of legacy fee-for-service reimbursement schemes. In 2017, we will begin to see more fully formed schemes that focus on patient support across the care continuum. As such, healthcare providers are in dire need of the right technologies and tools to help them effectively deploy and coordinate patients, personnel and infrastructure [emphasis mine].”

In other words, healthcare providers need access to better data to help patients achieve better outcomes, which is exactly why Ochsner Health System in New Orleans jumped all over Apple’s HealthKit to start treating hypertension. A sustained effort to making clinical care more effective requires better management of electronic health records, which is what Apple is aiming to provide, as seen with its acquisition of Gliimpse.

Tim Cook’s Vision

Apple’s actions follow through on Apple CEO Tim Cook’s vision for Apple as a healthcare player. As he told Fast Company’s Rick Tetzeli in 2016,

We’ve gotten into the health arena and we started looking at wellness, that took us to pulling a string to thinking about research, pulling that string a little further took us to some patient-care stuff, and that pulled a string that’s taking us into some other stuff,” he says. “When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.

And Cook has good reason to be optimistic. Apple’s ace in the hole consists of its toehold among the various players in the healthcare ecosystems, especially physicians, who prefer using Apple products. And the Cleveland Clinic recently rated the Apple Watch as having the most accurate heart-rate sensor. In 2017, I expect Apple to deepen those relationships through joint research and development (as it has done with Mayo Clinic).

And to paraphrase Steve Jobs, here’s one more thing: expect Apple to articulate a vision for integrating artificial intelligence and healthcare. The company recently joined the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence, a consortium dedicated to using AI for social good. AI, data, and healthcare are converging. I expect Apple to be at the center of that convergence.

This blog post is adapted from my ebook, Dr. Apple Will See You Now.

Do You Speak Emoji?

Next time you are on Twitter, check out emoji search by Google. If you tweet an emoji to Google’s Twitter account, Google will respond with suggestions of where to eat or what to do based on the content of your emoji. For instance, I tweeted to Google a donut emoji, and Google tweeted me back a link to search results for “donut” nearby (along with a GIF for good measure).

The functionality is limited (Google says it is working on 200 search-enabled emoji) but demonstrates just one of the ways that emoji have become the lingua franca of our lives. Three elements of cultural adoption — consumers, media platforms, and brands — have converged to make emoji mainstream, and there is no turning back.

Consumers Speak Emoji

The first element of cultural adoption consists of everyday people adopting an idea, often in regional pockets. Emoji have taken hold as an acceptable way for our mobile society to express themselves — which is neither good nor bad, just a sign of the evolving ways in which people communicate. According to the 2016 Emoji Report, published by Emogi, in 2016 people sent to each other 2.3 trillion mobile messages that incorporate emoji. Heavy mobile texters — people who say they send messages several times a day — use emoji in 56 percent of their messages. (Those heavy mobile messaging app users are typically female and younger.)

People use emoji to be understood, to add sentiment, or simply to express themselves as quickly as possible. Emoji are especially appealing to a culture that relies on mobile texting. Short-form text does not always lend itself to expressing sentiment. Emoji eliminate that problem. Accordingly, emoji use has exploded as mobile messaging apps have become more popular. The amount of time adults in the U.S. spend on mobile messaging apps will increase from five minutes a day in 2016 to nine minutes per day in 2017 and 14 minutes per day in 2018, according to eMarketer. 📱

And we’re hungry for more: 75 percent of mobile messaging users want more emoji options, and half of U.S. consumers would be open to using in their messages branded emoji such as a 😀 next to a Pepsi can or a dancing Coors Light can, according to the 2016 Emoji Report.

Media

Media platforms such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and Twitter are usually necessary to amplify an idea beyond initial adoption by everyday people. All the major media platforms have taken major steps.

Throughout 2016, Apple aggressively emoji-fied the way users of its Operating System communicate. At its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple rolled out an expanded emoji library to make Apple Messenger a far more lively communication channel. It was as if Apple switched from color to black and white by dialing up its use of emoji. Any Apple Operating System user noticed the change the moment they updated to OS X, as Apple made it easier to select emoji along with GIFs and images to turn texts into bursts of multi-media goodness.

Apple also added some important cultural nuance to its emoji. In August 2016, Apple rolled out emoji that recognize and celebrate diversity, including single-parent families, rainbow flags, and more images of people of color. As Apple noted on its website, “This exciting update brings more gender options to existing characters, including new female athletes and professionals, adds beautiful redesigns of popular emoji, a new rainbow flag and more family options.

Apple is working closely with the Unicode Consortium to ensure that popular emoji characters reflect the diversity of people everywhere.”

Facebook gradually incorporated emoji into the way its community communicates. In early 2016, Facebook added emoji to the Facebook Like button, thus adding more sentiment to a simple click. Facebook Messenger introduced 1,200 new emoji, and Facebook pushed emoji to commemorate special events such as Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary. But organic is not Facebook’s style. Look for Facebook to incorporate emoji more as a paid media strategy with brands.

Google made emoji a more prominent part of its ecosystem. For instance, Gboard, launched in 2016, introduces all sorts of functions into your mobile device’s keyboard, including easier access to emoji (Google also unveiled a handy emoji search tool to Gboard in December). But Google wasn’t done. Google also unleashed Allo, a smarter, more visual messaging app that includes, among other functions, a shortcut for discovering emoji. And, as noted, Google is encouraging the adoption of emoji in our everyday lives through functions such as emoji search — which is where I think emoji will really take hold as mobile use continues to rise.

Not surprisingly, Snapchat has been an emoji innovator, introducing functionality such as making it possible for users to add emoji next to their friends’ names, based on variables such as their Zodiac signs. Snapchat also allows its members to pin emoji to Snaps, which makes the emoji animated, and Snapchat uses emoji as visual cues to tell you how often you and your friends communicate with each other. For instance, a gold heart next to your friend’s name signifies that you and your friend send the most snaps to each other — you are the bestest of best friends. At the other end of the scale, a baby emoji means you and have just become friends. The emoji are an interesting way for Snapchat to exert some pressure on you and your friends to share more (on Snapchat, naturally).

For Snapchat, emoji are a natural extension of the visual ways that Snapchatters tell stories. Especially now that Snapchat enters the realm of being publicly traded, look for the platform to find more ways to incorporate emoji commercially, such as incorporating emoji more aggressively into its advertising.

Twitter has been a proving ground for emoji, an example being Coca-Cola and Twitter launching the first branded emoji in 2015. The platform has been especially effective for using emoji to celebrate global events such as the 2016 Olympics. In the run-up to Super Bowl 51, Twitter exploded with emoji including a customized Lady Gaga emoji. To commemorate Black History Month, Twitter has launched a series of emoji and a chatbot that will suggest to you ways to commemorate Black History on Twitter through a variety of hashtags. All you need to do is send a direct message to @Blackbirds (Twitter’s black employee resource group) to join in. The Black History emoji are a perfect example of how Twitter continues to lead as an event-based app.

These platforms are all incorporating emoji to increase levels of user engagement on their platforms, which makes the platforms more attractive to advertisers.  My bet is that Snapchat will be the first to monetize emoji in a powerful way.

Brands

Brands add the all-important element of commerce to cultural adoption. And brands are using emoji to do to everything from inject sentiment to ordering products. In 2015, Domino’s set the standard against which all emoji branding seems to be measured now when Domino’s made it possible for its customers to order pizzas with emoji on Twitter and then through texting. As Khushbu Shah of Eater wrote at the time, “Gone are the days where pressing a couple of buttons on a smartwatch or voicing an order to a virtual assistant on Domino’s mobile app seemed convenient. Those methods are entirely too cumbersome and tedious when ordering is now as simple as tweeting an emoji.”

The notion of simply texting or tweeting a pizza emoji promised to remove layers of friction from ordering, which generated great PR for Domino’s. In reality, ordering a pizza with an emoji turned out to be more complicated than the marketing made it sound. Domino’s claims that half its U.S. sales come from digital, and so the emoji ordering feature makes sense for the company to try, even if the actual experience is not as slick as advertised.

In fact, Domino’s is not the only brand using emoji. A number of other businesses have creatively employed emoji, such as:

  • As noted, in 2015, Coca-Cola became the first brand to get its own custom emoji, which appeared when people tweeted #ShareaCoke. The emoji created social engagement for Coke — within 24 hours, #ShareaCoke scored 170,500 mentions globally through the joint effort between Coke and Twitter.
  • General Electric created an #EmojiScience campaign consisting of a website, emojiscience.com, which contains emoji as a periodic table of the elements. Clicking on each emoji leads you to more layers of scientific information, including explanations about aspects of science from Bill Nye in the #EmojiScienceLab. For instance, clicking on a rocket ship emoji revealed information about the New Horizons space mission to Pluto. The experience brilliantly supports GE’s brand, which is rooted in the power of science.

  • In 2016, Pepsi rolled out an emoji campaign notable for its multichannel integration. The PepsiMoji summer campaign featured more than 600 proprietary emoji designs on packaging (including more than a billion bottles and cans), Instagram, and video on social media. The PepsiMoji returned during the holiday season with the launch of a set of holiday-inspired emoji, all with the express intent of getting people to #SayItwithPepsi.

  • Luxury brands have been employing emoji to create some heat around Valentine’s Day. For example, Michael Kors launched an emoji keyboard that works with Android and Apple devices to share special Valentine’s Day emoji such as kissing lips and conversation hearts. Moët created a branded emoji keyboard, too, which includes lips, hearts, and mini-animated Moët & Chandon bottles with popping corks. In essence, these businesses are creating utilities that facilitates Valentine’s Day-themed messages while engaging with the brands.

For many other brands, using emoji can mean simply incorporating emoji into their content, whether posting information on Facebook or tweeting. Emoji constitute an effective way to express brand sentiment and promote a campaign just as visual storytelling does. And tools are emerging to help brands become more sophisticated. For instance, startup Inmoji runs emoji-based marketing campaigns for big brands such as Disney and Starbucks. Inmoji offers a self-service platform in which brands can create clickable stickers that reveal more content. Brands are reporting engagement rates exceeding 100 percent because people click on the emoji multiple times.

Emogi, the publisher of The 2016 Emoji Report, has introduced a way for businesses to embed branded emoji into text messages, which is crucial because, as noted, texting is a popular form of emoji sharing. Here is how the process works, as noted by Jia Tolentino of The New Yorker:

  • A beer brand—let’s say Bud Light—makes an ad buy on the triggers “party,” “drinks,” or “🍺.” The brand then targets the users in the demographic they’re going after: women aged eighteen to thirty-five in New York or Chicago, say, whose Internet profiles indicate that they’ve recently searched for local bars. When these women text their friends “🍺?,” a selection of Bud Light emoji will pop up in their keyboards: a girl riding a beer can like a rocket, perhaps, or a frog sipping a Bud Light, or a💃clutching a beer in both hands. Ideally, these little images will be too charming to resist.

In addition, Emogi and Moat recently launched a tool to measure consumer engagement with emoji, and with measurability comes more legitimacy. Whether the emoji are annoying or cool depends on how creative and authentic the emoji look. I’d argue that an emoji of a Starbucks cup is more authentic than a bland coffee cup, just like people in a movie seem more believable and real when they’re sipping a Coke instead of a generic Acme brand.

What Brands Should Do

The combination of consumer usage, media amplification, and brand participation will ensure that emoji continue to grow in usage. Already 92 percent of online consumers use them, and clever tools such as Bitmoji continue to make emoji mainstream. All brands owe it to themselves to examine how to use emoji in their content, whether through advertising or branded content. If you are a brand, you should ask:

  • How does your audience use emoji? How do they incorporate them into their tweets to you and in their Facebook posts, for instance?
  • How might you test the use of emoji? Do A/B tests in your social content and emails to see whether emoji result in higher rates of engagement.
  • How are other companies using emoji and why? Study their successes and failures, and learn from them.
  • Where does it make sense for you to use emoji? For Domino’s the ordering functionality makes sense (even if flawed) because of the Domino’s strategy of driving sales from digital. As noted, brands have many other options, such as simply adding emoji to social posts, embedding emoji into ads, and using them in content such as blog posts. You don’t have to issue a press release in emoji as Chevrolet did. But at the least, look for ways to incorporate emoji to impart tone within short-form content.

And here’s one thing you don’t want to do: ignore emoji. Assuming emoji don’t apply to you is like ignoring the rise of visual storytelling or being ignorant of how language is changing in everyday use. Emoji are here to stay. ✍

 

Can U2 Be Cool Again?

U2 has something in common with its corporate partner Apple: they both make a lot of money. And they both struggle to be cool.

U2 earns gigantic paydays with high-profile concert tours that appeal to its Baby Boomer fan base. According to Forbes, U2 was one of the highest paid musical acts of 2016 based on the success of its latest tour, Innocence + Experience, which earned $55 million.

But the band’s songs have barely put a dent in the Billboard charts throughout the 2000s (how many U2 songs from the 2000s do you listen to regularly?) and U2 has become joined at the hip with Apple, a brand that has been about as exciting as vanilla ice cream since Steve Jobs passed away.

U2 wants to change that perception. In 2017, U2 will hit the road for a tour that will celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, thus introducing one of the group’s coolest works to the digital generation. Reportedly the tour will include an appearance at Bonnaroo, one of the key music festivals for establishing credibility and coolness with digital natives and millennials. And for entertainers, especially musicians, being relevant to the present-day generation of tastemakers (digital natives and millennials today) is important to being cool. Led Zeppelin is cool. Chance the Rapper is cool. Coldplay is not cool.

Artists can lose and regain their coolness for many reasons. In the late 1960s, Frank Sinatra lost his coolness when he tried too hard to connect with a younger audience by recording horrible cover versions of songs like Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” He regained his coolness when he stopped trying to be cool and focused on being Frank Sinatra. In the 1980s, Johnny Cash lost his coolness when he rejected his inner rebel and slipped into a comfort zone of touring as a feel-good gospel act. He regained his coolness when he partnered with producer Rick Rubin to make the American Recordings series of albums, which re-established his contemporary relevance through covers of rock songs such as “Hurt.”

U2 defined cool in the 1980s and 1990s by making music with bite, emotional depth, and boldness. Throughout the 1980s, U2 was the defiantly soulful and socially conscious alternative to the synth-heavy sound of the second British invasion, and The Joshua Tree demonstrated that you could be spiritual and cool at the same time. In the late 1980s, U2 suffered a temporary lapse of coolness during the Rattle and Hum tour, when the group’s pious tendencies turned into messianic self-indulgence. But U2 regained its equilibrium by recording experimental, edgy works such as Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop. Even if those albums were not always critically successful, U2 was challenging and pushing its audience in new directions.

But in the 2000s, starting with the release of All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000, U2 committed the Johnny Cash mistake of settling into a comfort zone — in U2’s case, by churning out straightforward pop songs, all of which have pretty much sounded the same. According to U2: The Definitive Biography, by John Jobling, the commercial success of All That You Can’t Leave Behind helped U2 emerge from a financially troubled time — which might help explain why U2 has tried to repeat that album’s formula ever since, resulting in music that no longer resonates.

U2 also hurt its own coolness by falling out of touch with the listening habits of digital-era consumers. In the post-Napster era, U2 relied on the record album to tell its story and in doing so clung stubbornly to a dying format. When U2 realized that people no longer buy record albums, the band infamously tried to force an album on unsuspecting listeners by collaborating with Apple in 2014 to distribute U2’s Songs of Innocence as a “gift” download through iTunes. The unwanted distribution of Songs of Innocence caused U2’s social media sentiment to plunge by 41 percent in one week and exposed how irrelevant the band had become to the digital age, with Twitter users asking questions such as, “Who is U2? And why do their songs keep popping up in my iPhone?”

Since The Songs of Innocence debacle, U2 has continued to struggle with a perception of no longer mattering. In 2016, U2 offered to play a private concert as part of a promotion for (RED), which Bono cofounded to eradicate AIDS in Africa. The private concert promotion on Facebook has inspired plenty of laudatory comments from fans, but you don’t have to search very hard to notice the snarky pronouncements proliferating among the fan reactions, such as “I wouldn’t open the curtains if you were playing in my back yard. And don’t foist your mawkish MOR noise on my iPod ever again either while we’re at it!” (via Facebooker Cathy Smith).

So how can U2 reestablish its relevance and coolness? Here is what I’d do if I were managing the U2 brand:

  • Maximize the value of The Joshua Tree. Digging into the past is a wise move, as Guns N’ Roses proved through its successful Not in This Lifetime tour, which reestablished GNR’s relevance in the digital age. Playing at Bonnaroo would be a start. U2 should also hit the millennial music circuit with stops at venues such as Coachella and Lollapalooza. Surprise shows at smaller millennial-friendly gigs would help U2 connect on a more personal level with younger generations of fans.
  • Unleash The Edge. As a standalone figure, The Edge is way cool. (Check him out as he slays the guitar in It Might Get Loud.) I’d create a stronger narrative about his status as one of the great guitar gods, through advertising, social media posts, and music trailers promoting the upcoming shows. Putting a bigger spotlight on The Edge as the great guitar innovator that he is would demonstrate that even if U2 has not always progressed musically, he’s always been on the vanguard of guitar, similar to the way Slash has symbolized all that is good and cool about GNR.
  • Be visible in the right places. The band’s takeover of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in 2015 reminded the world of how funny and cool U2 could be. Jimmy Fallon is the kind of personality whom Baby Boomer musicians cozy up to in order to be relevant. U2 has plenty more opportunities to shine in the right shows, especially via digital — how about Bono appearing on Carpool Karaoke, for example?
  • Release great music. The most important step U2 can take is to create music that is relevant and interesting, which Songs of Innocence was not. In 2017, U2 will release its follow-up, Songs of Experience. Certainly the time is right for U2 to recapture its fire and grit if U2 wants to do so. We live in very uncertain and troubled times, which could make that socially conscious side of U2 more relevant again, as has been the case with Roger Waters and The Wall

For rock and roll acts, growing older does not mean losing your coolness quotient, as AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Neil Young have demonstrated. But you do have to state a case for your relevance when you continue to play music for decades, as I’ve discussed on my blog. By announcing a series of shows celebrating The Joshua Tree in 2017, U2 has taken a step in the right direction, as The Joshua Tree will never grow uncool. But will U2 create new music that resonates in 2017?