The next iPad? Crystal ball, anyone?


A couple of weeks ago, I was hosting an event in a series now in its third year.

The series aims to bring together executives from a given vertical – publishing, retail, finance, etc. – with mobile marketing companies that have experience in their sector and might be able to help them on their mobile journey. 

My main role at these events is to introduce the speakers, then summarise what they said when they have finished.

One of the presentations talked about the pace of change in the mobile marketing space. It reminded me of a conversation my colleagues and I had soon after we ran the first event back in 2011. 

Looking back on the event the week after we ran it, we pondered over how often we could put it on for the same vertical. So if we ran a publishing event in January 2011, could we run it again a year later? Would things have changed that much in the intervening period?

Listening to the presentation two weeks ago, I concluded that, arguably, you could run them every three months. That’s how fast things are moving in this space – and that presents its own set of challenges.

Take a device that is currently of pivotal interest to the publishing industry – the iPad.

For sure, it’s now just one of hundreds of different tablets on which consumers can consume news, entertainment, and a variety of other media. But most would agree it remains the most important. And a little more than three years ago, it didn’t even exist.

It’s hard to imagine another device with the iPad’s potential to revolutionise the publishing industry. But then, before the iPad launched, it was equally hard to imagine its potential to do so, even once the design and specs had been leaked.

And that’s my point.

There are large corporations, not to mention smart kids in garages, working on the next big thing that could forever change the way we consume media. Whether it’s along the lines of Google Glass, the Pebble wristwatch, a mash-up of the two, or something completely different and as yet unimaginable, there will be connected devices available to consumers three years from now that don’t exist today.

Not only do they not yet exist, their existence is impossible for most of us to predict. How you plan for them is a key challenge.

As I trawled through the round-ups of April Fool’s stories last week, one that caught my eye was for the, offering what its manufacturer described as “21st century safe toasting.” Features included bread bin monitoring, with automatic re-ordering when the number of remaining slices reaches a set level; an iOS and Android app to control the toaster from anywhere; and the ability to tweet and post to Facebook from the toaster.

The whole thing is a spoof, but a very elaborate one — and, more to the point, a very convincing one. Not just because of the effort that went into creating a dedicated Web site to support the joke, but also because anyone who follows the connected device space will probably concede this very product, or something very close to it, will likely appear on within the next 18 months.

So when new ideas and new devices are rolling off the production line at such speed, how do the people responsible for running our newspapers, magazines, TV stations, banks, shops, and any other type of business decide which ones to back, which ones to develop for?

The simple answer, of course, is there is no simple answer. Sorry, but I’m guessing you already knew that.

What you can do is try to keep up with it all, so that when you’re hit with the idea of the connected toaster, or the T-shirt that doubles as a message board, you’ll be ready. You’ll have enough insight into what’s happening in the real world to appreciate that, while both might be a joke today, they stand every chance of being the real deal tomorrow.

Predicting the future is as impossible today as it ever was, but trying to second-guess it has never been more essential.

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