2005 does not feel like a long time ago, but on the internet, 14 years is definitely a long time. More than a decade ago, we were in the dot-com era and it was hard to predict the future of online businesses. Most of the businesses were trading in brick and mortar shops and consumers had to personally visit every local business store. Internet was mostly used for reading articles and finding new information.
Few years down the line, web 2.0 came in full force and quadrupled the growth of internet.Websites became more modern and user-friendly. This was the time when businesses took cognizance of the internet as well as how it can help them connect with more customers.
After 2014, the desktop revolution became prominent with the launch of HTML5. This is when the real potential of online businesses came to the forefront. During this time the consumers also started to get accustomed to ecommerce and began online shopping. Gone were those days when consumers had to drive to a local business; they could just connect with the business sitting at their home in front of a desktop.
While this was going on, smartphones were also catching up, and within the next couple of years, consumers moved from desktop to mobile for connecting with businesses on the go. Nowadays, mobile commerce has become a reality. You want to order food, hire a carpenter, buy groceries or book a cab, all that can happen anytime, anyplace on a smartphone. You do not even need to use your desktop.
So what happens next?
What is the next frontier that the online businesses have to attain?
Many say it revolves around AI and Big Data as a lot of work has been done in this field.Moreover, these technologies have already set out on the path to revolutionize online businesses. But there is another domain, which you must be overlooking too, and it’s slowly coming to the forefront.
Ever seen the movie “Minority Report” or “Iron Man”? That is where we are headed. The era of virtual computing is upon us and soon we will move beyond desktops and smartphones into the age of “mixed reality” where our physical world will mix with the virtual world. This will be a confluence of personal assistants and virtual reality.
The rise of smartphones has given way to personal assistants like Google Assistant (Google), Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon) and Cortana (Microsoft). Even other players like Facebook (M) and Samsung (Bixby) are working overtime on their own versions of personal assistants. Chatbots have already given us an indication as to how AI can be used by businesses to increase engagement with customers.
Personal assistants want to take that one step ahead. Recently, all these tech giants launched their own speakers powered by their corresponding personal assistants. Their main motive is to use voice inputs from users to solve their queries and offer them the required information.
Till now, a computing device like a desktop or mobile was needed by users to access information online. For example, if they wanted to know weather forecast, they had to either go to a desktop or open their mobile devices to look at the upcoming weather updates. Same was true if they wanted to listen to some music online. But with these smart home assistants coming into play, users just need to summon the assistant and state their query. No need for a desktop or mobile.
You might be busy baking a cake in the kitchen and would want to know how much temperature is needed to be set in the oven. Just ask the assistant and it will give you an answer instantaneously while you are busy preparing the batter. No need to take a break and sit before a desktop or take out your smartphone.
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Recently 1800flowers, an online flower delivery service, partnered with Google assistant and integrated its service. This means you can now easily summon Google assistant via your voice and order any type of flowers.
Susan- Hey Google, order a bouquet of roses from 1800flowers.
GA – Hi Susan, sure. Let me check that for you.
GA – A bouquet of roses with 10 sticks is $29.99. Do you want me to place the order?
Susan – Yes, place the order.
Google assistant will take the delivery and payment details saved in its database and place the order. The best part is Susan did not even have to raise a finger for it.
The above scenario is already possible with Google Assistant.
Additionally, Apple has also opened up the API of Siri for third-party developers and Amazon is working on bringing its shopping service to Alexa. This means, soon, in the near future, consumers could just use their voice to connect with online businesses and even buy products or hire services.
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Consumers are hardwired to look at products before making the purchase. How can someone buy something using just voice? Moreover, this is possible only if consumers know what they are purchasing (in the above case, roses). What if the user does not know what the product is?
Wouldn’t voice-driven interaction fail at that point? This is where the next phase comes into play.
We all are aware of advancements that technology has put forth in the form of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. But the thing that would really revolutionize everything is the mixed reality.
Microsoft is already working on its Holo Lens which mixes the real environment with virtual reality.
Why would anyone need a desktop or a mobile device, when you could project the screen on any surface? Microsoft is rigorously working on this concept to make it mainstream in a few years. So the next time, you think of buying a dress or ordering food online, you can just pop up a virtual screen on the surface before you and place an order with the help of Gestures.
The story does not end with voice-driven interaction or mixed reality; the conjunction of both would drive the next revolution for online businesses. Imagine this: you are sitting in front of the TV watching your favorite travel show. Right there, you plan on visiting that place next month.
You summon your personal virtual assistant and ask it to open a particular online travel activity marketplace. Just in front of you, a virtual hologram screen appears showcasing that website. You scroll through the website using gestures as well as your voice, with your personal assistant guiding you throughout the process. The best part is that you can even have a 3D virtual experience of the activities right in your living room before making the decision.
Would you ever go back to your mobile or desktop after having such an experience? This voice and gesture-driven virtual engagement will surely be a boon for online businesses as they would be able to offer a richer and more vibrant experience to its customers. Most of the information that currently we see on a screen in 2D will be available in the 3D virtual environment, offering consumers a near real-life experience. How is that for a future?
Technology is moving at a really fast pace. Within a short span of a decade, we have moved from offline to online and also added mobility to it. In another few years we will combine real environment and virtual environment and offer mix reality that would change the whole notion of how consumers connect with businesses. Like in the case of internet and mobile computing, the early adopter will surely have an edge over the rest. So stay updated and keep an eye out for the next technological revolution.
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