Unencumbered by legacy systems and market expectations, true tech pioneers such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have been able to write their own rules and deliver revolutionary products which have significantly changed how we work, rest and play.

Startup culture is now part of the fabric of development, and has speeded up the pace of change to such a degree that the market is bombarded with new ideas and technical advances on a daily basis. The downside to this is that, for businesses looking to take advantage of the latest developments, it can be difficult to decide which horse to back.

As a general rule, any tech development which makes life easier for the user is worth investing in. Mobile apps which serve a practical purpose, tablet technology which provides support for those with medical issues, cloud and cognitive computing – these are all solid bets for the future, provided there is a fully-realised strategy to go with them.

On the other hand, anything which appeals to the user’s short-term need for gratification or takes advantage of social trends may deliver quick results, but is likely to provide diminishing returns as the market moves on to the ‘next big thing’. Gamification based on casual gaming fads, social sharing gimmicks and intrusive wearables such as internet-enabled eyewear were quick to fade away once users decided they wanted something different.

To illustrate the point, here are some examples of up-and-coming applications of technology and their potential to stay the course:

Smartwatches

Watches which connect with your personal data have been around for a while - Samsung, IBM and Microsoft have all tried their hand at making them work since the 1980s. But it wasn’t until smartphones established themselves as practical, portable tools for everyday living that these companion timepieces became viable. This year, with the launch of both Android Wear and the Apple Watch, an initially cautious market has responded positively to its potential for making data even more mobile. Why is this? With the increase in social media applications and personalised data overload, smartwatches mean that users don’t need to interrupt the flow of what they’re doing to take out their phone to see a chat message or email. If you’re not convinced, try one out for one working day and you won’t go back.

Verdict - banker. Smartwatches will use existing technology and data to make it easier and quicker for people to cope with information overload and streamline their workflow.

Commercial drones

Businesses that want to appear at the forefront of technology have looked to drones as a demonstration of their tech credibility. It’s easy to see why – they look suitably space-age, they appear to be autonomous and they seem to have useful practical applications. While this may be true for non-commercial information-gathering exercises, when it comes to using drones for, say, delivery of goods, it becomes more complicated.

First, any strategy for drone deliveries will overlay an already well-established logistics operation, adding a level of complexity and a need for additional training, management and resources. Second, while drones themselves may be cheap to buy, they are not equipped for bulk delivery and currently have a short battery life, meaning multiple deliveries and the associated extra cost, as well as the potential for complete supply chain failure. Finally, occupying air space, at however low a level, requires regulation. In the US, the Federal Aviation Authority has given cautious approval for the commercial use of drones, but is keen to limit their activity.

Verdict – outsider. While drones are excellent for information gathering, they simply add complexity and cost to established commercial operations. The investment may well prove to be outstripped by additional paperwork and implementation expense.

Social selling

Snapchat, Twitter, Vine and Instagram have all started introducing advertising and sponsored content into their platforms. At their core, outside of business accounts, each of these platforms is driven by deeply personal interactions based on user emotions and opinions. If not planned carefully, advertising can be seen as an intrusion – ‘butting in’ to a conversation with unwelcome information.

This means that advertising content which hasn’t been specifically tailored to its audience can be ignored (as with Snapchat – the largely teenage audience simply refuses to engage with Daily Mail ads, for example). Once brands have kicked the hornet’s nest by misjudging user sentiment, they can find their campaigns either killed or brutally satirised. However, there is a place for finely-judged advertising, personalised to the user, which creates positive brand association rather than direct sales – showing a brand’s charity work close to the hearts of certain consumers, for example.

Verdict – longshot. This is a prime example of ‘know your audience’. The technology exists to monetise almost anything with ads, but if you don’t have a keen appreciation of how people use social networks, your campaign will fail. Brands can make effective use of them for customer enquiries and complaints, where they can actually do some positive engagement. But businesses should approach using them as advertising channels with care and analyse all the user data available to make sensitive decisions about campaigns.

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