2015 has been a landmark year for Innovation. The Cannes Lions Festival launched the first ever event of its kind focused entirely on this rapidly expanding field. Brands are waking up to the fact that it's better to out-think rather than outspend, and that technology can offer innovative ways of doing things differently. Despite this, there is still a lot of tech for tech's sake, with Gartner's Emerging Technology Hype Cycle giving an indication of what is and what isn't likely to stick. For those unfamiliar, the Hype Cycle provides a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities. From this graph, we can see that Brain-Computer Interaction is starting to gain traction, the IOT (Internet of Things) is still very immature and that VR (Virtual Reality) is starting to stick on the 'Slope of Enlightenment'… while consumer 3D printing enters the 'Trough of Disillusionment'. We've picked out nine trends that have come from reviewing a wide range of communications and tech innovations throughout the year, and which should serve as guidance for the areas to focus on in 2016.
We now consume five times as much information every day as we did 30 years ago. And although our brains have adapted somewhat to this change (as we covered in our SXSW talk this year – Neuroplasticity and Tech), they haven't kept pace sufficiently. So, this year was all about the 'Digital Detox' – with countless brands creating 'No phone or Wi-Fi zones' in an effort to get us to look up and be more engaged in the world around us. Going one step further, digital design studio ustwo (maker of Monument Valley) created Pause, an app for relaxation and meditation aimed at combating the stress of our technological multi-tasking, always-on lives. Likewise, BrainPal – a project that came out of the Disrupt Hackathon in San Francisco – combines data from consumer EEG headbands and the Cloudbrain API to show you how your favourite apps really make you feel. In the future, devices such as Phylter may help us to manage our digital dopamine addictions. Still a software project, the idea here is that it monitors the user's brain activity to read when they are overloaded with information. If so, notifications for texts and emails are turned off until they're in a better state to deal with them.
In order to deal with this information overload, brands need to make communications that are easy to process and don't disrupt people's flow. Programmatic formats such as auto-play videos and banners that expand without warning are unpopular – and have led to a tenfold increase in the number of people who use ad blockers – from 21m of us in 2010 to 198m by mid2015. A poll from the IAB UK and YouGov supports this opinion, with 48% saying that they would be less likely to use an ad blocker if brand messages did not impinge on their experience. GIFs are becoming an increasingly popular way to communicate simple concepts quickly. Channel 4 unveiled a new website that aims to repackage online news in a format more appealing to our shorter attention spans. Called 4NewsWall, it is aimed at 16to 34-year-olds. In an similar vein, emojis can be an incredibly simple way to get a message across, but only when it makes sense to do so – for example, Domino's popular one-click pizza ordering emoji. Another brand deliberately making its communications easy is Kit Kat, which launched a simple but innovative TV ad featuring… well, nothing – as an antidote to the Christmas chaos. The 30-second spot featured only a grey screen as an accompanying voiceover asked if 'just absolutely nothing' is nice for a change?
Online video now accounts for 50% of all mobile traffic. By 2018, it is believed that 79% of all consumer internet traffic will be video. Speaking at SXSW in Texas this year, Mashable's Pete Cashmore said that it's only a matter of time until most of its content will be video – similar to the video-exclusive site Nowness. Facebook has also already started to test a video-only newsfeed. Brands are finally starting to step up to the fivesecond pre-roll challenge, demonstrating their creative prowess to catch people's attention in five seconds. MINI's YouTube Race, challenges viewers to 'Take on the most powerful MINI ever'; the pre-roll visually counts down '3-2-1' in time with the ad-skip button and the user then has to try to hit it before the MINI blasts off! Another innovative use of video this year was The Last Hours of Laura K, a pioneering BBC online drama that placed the onus on the viewer to solve a murder mystery set in London. The story unfolded through 24 hours of CCTV footage playing on a loop on a website, with viewers invited to use it – along with Laura K's online presence – to piece the puzzle together.
90% of all the data ever produced has been in the last two years. Data is the oil of the 21st century; many companies and states don't know what to do with it, but are storing it up just in case. Creativity is the key to making sense of all the noise – as many panels at SXSW this year professed. Brazilian architect and designer Guto Requena was behind two standout data visualisation projects this year, namely the Love Project, which measured people's biometric data while they were telling love stories, then turned it into 3D printed 'snowflakes', and Light Creature, which saw a 30-storey hotel façade respond to environmental stimuli (such as noise pollution and air quality). MoodLens is a tool from Glade's Museum of Feelings that alters your online profile photo according to your mood – based on biometrics, the weather and your social sentiment. Another project based on self-portraits is SelfieCity, which analyses selfies across different locations using a mix of theoretic, artistic and quantitative methods, discovering insights, such as: older men post more selfies than older women on Instagram.
Futurist and science fiction author Bruce Sterling suggests that we should put Siri, Cortana and Alexa – the respective artificially intelligent assistants for Apple, Microsoft and Amazon – in a room and get them to talk. He suggests that The Singularity – the dystopian theory that one day computer intelligence could exceed human intelligence and control – should be called 'The Singularious' and shouldn't be taken seriously… Scepticism aside, 2015 has seen AI slowly make its way into the mainstream and become a useful part of our lives. Watson, IBM's AI platform, saw many useful applications this year, such as the Tone Analyser – which uses linguistic analysis to detect emotional states, social propensities and writing styles in written communication, to help avoid email aggression. And recently IBM has launched the Trend app – which analyses conversations on social media and review sites to forecast trends and help users choose gifts. AI also has the capability to be creative, from Ava the AI girl on Tinder who tricked many keen matchers (a stunt to promote the film Ex Machina) to Jukedeck a platform that uses AI to create customised royalty-free music.
Since Facebook bought Oculus for $2bn, people have started to take Virtual Reality serious. There has been massive growth in the amount of content being created, while the introduction of Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR to the space means that almost anyone with a smartphone can now experience VR. This year saw innovators raise the VR game by making it literally tangible, with devices such as Gloveone – an internet-connected glove that allows the wearer to 'feel' any object they can see on a screen or Virtual Reality headset. Impacto is an armband that combines basic 'haptic' feedback (a tap or vibration on the skin) with electrical muscle stimulation to push or pull the user's limb in a way that convincingly simulates a physical impact. A VR ecosystem called Jump was announced at Google's IO conference – it includes a 360degree camera rig, software to assemble the footage and a player. These developments may be the key to making VR more accessible to the masses. Also announced this year was VRAN, the world's first virtual reality advertising network (thus the acronym), allowing advertisers to buy media space within VR content.
With the rise of Neuromarketing and the spread of accessible biometric technologies, brands are innovating to allow people to interact through their biometric data alone. UMood is a new experience launched by Uniqlo, in one of its stores in Sydney, that uses neuroscience to match customers' moods with the perfect T-shirt. Participants don an EEG headset that then measures their reactions to a series of videos. Don't Look Away is the title of Usher's interactive music video for his new track, Chains, on entertainment platform TIDAL. The video only plays when the viewer is looking directly into the eyes of the people on the screen (as monitored via their webcam) – who have all been victims of social injustice. A new web app called Smile Suggest detects which websites make you smile and then saves them for you in a folder. The app runs silently in your browser and uses facial expression analysis technology, via your webcam, to take a note of whatever pages make you laugh or smile.
Computers have only started to be able to understand images based on visual characteristics rather than metadata in the last few years. Companies such as Cortexica have been leading the way, with its algorithm that mimics the visual cortex in the human brain – starting with Tesco's WineFinder app back in 2009 and then moving into the fashion world. Amazon's A9 subsidiary has also developed its visual search capability – and this is what Pinterest has used for its newly launched visual search function. Now, if you see an element of a pin that you like, e.g. a lamp within a photo of a room, you can quickly crop the lamp and search for only that. Google also has its own visual search ability and, at the RE.WORK artificial intelligence summit, announced Im2Calories – its prospective tool that will allow users to calculate the number of calories in food by taking a photo of it. The AI uses 'the depth of each pixel in an image' and 'sophisticated deep-learning algorithms' to identify a foodstuff, judge its size and come up with a calorie count.
76% of adults now own smartphones in the UK and, given that 63% of us admit to taking our phones with us to the toilet, our location is being tracked nearly everywhere we go. From a data point of view, we now have rich insights from people's location history and can build up geobehavioural profiles based on where they go in the real-world, not just what they do online. From a content point of view, we can now trigger data based on people's location – which allows for interesting creative opportunities, as Snapchat's geo-located filters have showed. Meanwhile, KFC created a UK first with sponsored geo-filters in 900 of its restaurants. Traces is a messaging app that allows you to record messages that can only be accessed digitally at specific locations. This year, Oxfam used the platform to spread awareness of its work by leaving tailored messages outside each of its 650 UK shops. Canadian band Keys N Krates partnered with VICE and Fido on the world's first location-based mobile music video. Once viewers allow the video's website to access their location, they are served up relevant geo-tagged images .