What comes after computers, laptops, smartphones & tablets?

Over the past two days I’ve presented twice at the Internet Retailing Expo and been talking about the next generation of Internet devices.

Computers and Laptops

We started off around 30 years ago with computers. They were good, but we were tied to a desk until laptops came along. Laptops offered the promise of freedom from our desks, but in reality battery life was rubbish and we soon realised it was pretty impossible to do much work as there was no Internet when we were roaming.

Smartphones and Tablets

Smartphones have only really taken off in the last decade and with 3G and then 4G we at last were unshackled from our desks. The first iPhone launched just nine years ago in 2007 and revolutionised computing. Apple were by no means the first smart phone, but Apple did what Apple do best and instead of being first to market they waited until they had a polished product, both in functionality and in form.

Tablets are relatively new, the first iPad is hardly five years old and they gave us bigger screen mobile devices.

Screenless Devices

The next trend will be to do away with screens entirely. If you think about it, digging your phone out of your pocket or bag, unlocking it possibly with a fingerprint scan, opening a browser or app and then typing or speaking a command really isn’t massively convenient. In fact it’s pretty inconvenient.

That’s why Amazon have built Amazon Echo, a device which is always on, always listening and will wake up and respond with a single word, it’s name, Alexa. You can say “Alexa, what’t the weather?” and Amazon Echo will tell you. “Alexa add soap powder to my shopping list” and Echo will amend your shopping list.

Echo has recently had Google calendar functionality added, now you can ask “Alexa, what appointments do I have today?” and she will tell you. Alexa (or Echo, the names are interchangeable) is pretty good, in fact I want one but they’re only available in the US currently.

Who’s going to be better than Amazon?

What about Apple though, are they falling behind? Where’s their screenless device? I have a sneaky suspicion that Apple’s dev bods in Cupertino are working behind closed doors looking at Amazon Echo and asking themselves how they can make a better Apple product. Will it look slicker? Will it have more functions? Will it know more? Will it make shopping easier? How will it revolutionise my life?

If Apple do bring out a screenless device you can bet on it being slicker and better than Amazons (or at least look better as reportedly SIRI isn’t as currently as good as Alexa who rarely fails to respond to her name or misunderstands a command). Perhaps Apple may even add Echo type functionality to Apple TV.

It won’t stop with Amazon and Apple however. Microsoft have their xBox which can already respond to basic commands, Sony have the PlayStation. Why wouldn’t Microsoft and Sony add Echo type functionality to their existing devices.

Google hasn’t proven great at hardware but they’ve proven pretty good at operating systems with Android. How hard would it be for Google to build Echo like features into Android in partnership with hardware manufacturers and Google as we know has shopping data like no other company on earth. They know our searches and they know where we click to buy – they control all the advertising. Any Google device would doubltess build in their product feeds, trusted shops and Google Wallet.

eBay aren’t hardware builders, but they have the most successful smartphone app on the planet. Amazon are hardly likely to let eBay on Echo, but Apple, Google, Microsoft and Sony won’t turn eBay away.

How will we sell on screenless devices?

The pace of change on the Internet is accelerating and soon we’ll be surrounded by devices which just need a spoken word to perform tasks for us. Amazon Echo is just the beginning. In a few years we could be looking at smartphones with the same disdain that we look at computers and laptops. Smartphones really are a bit tired and old fashioned when you think about it aren’t they?

As an online retailer you want to know how buyers are purchasing and on what devices. It affects how you list your products and on what platforms. What we do know is that buyers often don’t read your carefully crafted descriptions on a device that has a screen. Buyers certainly won’t be reading descriptions on screenless devices and we’re going to have to focus on structured data Item specifics (product attributes such as colour and size) and Product Identifiers (GTIN, EAN, UPC, ISBN) more than ever in the future. It’s the only way screenless devices will be able to identify and confirm the products consumers are trying to purchase.