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A new goldrush?

Posted on: Monday 15th of September 2014

Will Apple’s new Watch be as successful as its other iconic products? It doesn’t go on sale until next year so we won’t know for some time. But the move is significant nevertheless, for two related reasons.

First, just a few years ago, when we said to people ‘helping individuals collect and use data in their own lives is going to be a big growth market’, a common response was ‘Oh yeah? Try pulling the other one!”

But now, as iconic brands like Apple and other companies introduce wearables that help individuals collect data about exercise and other aspects of their health, suddenly the idea doesn’t seem so outlandish any more. Brands like Apple are educating consumers, and the market as a whole, about the potential of personal information services.

Apple is also breaking with the Silicon Valley pack on the issue of personal data.

“We take a very different view of this than a lot of other companies have,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in a recent interview. “Our view is, when we design a new service, we try not to collect data.  So we’re not reading your email.  We’re not reading your iMessage. You’re not our product”.

“If [companies are] making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried,” he continued.  “And companies I think should be very transparent about it.”

Wal-Mart’s move

Apple isn’t alone, and it’s not just wearables. Take Wal-Mart. For decades Wal-Mart poured scorn on loyalty and other schemes arguing that they create more cost than benefit. So its new Savings Catcher programme marks a departure.

Shoppers scan or enter a barcode on a receipt to see if any of the items they bought are on sale cheaper anywhere else locally. If they are, Wal-Mart will make up the difference, thereby proving its prices are ‘unbeatable’. To this extent Savings Cather is pretty similar to Sainsbury’s Brand Match. But Wal-Mart plans to go further with Savings Catcher:

  • making shopper data and analytics from the program available to shoppers themselves:
  • letting them search and sort their receipts
  • get pie charts breaking down how they spend their money
  • generate “predictive shopping lists”
  • keep a running tab of in-store purchases to stay on budget
  • get notifications when there’s a manufacturer coupon available for an item on their list
  • get the best-priced bundle of items within a pre-set budget.

With this toe in the water Wal-Mart, the biggest company in the world, is entering the market for personal information services and, once again, educating both consumers and the market as a whole about its potential: the idea is rapidly going mainstream.

Enter the second significant thing about Apple’s recent initiatives (not only wearables, but also its stand about personal data in new service like its HealthKit). When new markets begin to crystallise and jell, suddenly a whole range of different players converge on the same highground from all sorts of different directions: North, South, East and West.

You can see this in the ‘smart home’. It’s interesting enough as a market for Google to pay $3.2 billion for the smart thermostat maker Nest. Manufacturers of all manner of devices – smart TVs, computers, mobile phones, household appliances – are all manoeuvring to grab their share. Next to them lie the energy companies with their smart meters, home security and other home service providers, including supermarkets. It’s still too soon to see who will come out on top.

On your marks …

How will the personal information services goldrush unfold?

Different players have different strengths and weaknesses depending on where they are coming from.

Big brands like Apple and Wal-Mart have the brand recognition, the market reach and the resources to achieve ‘instant’ critical mass. But they’re oftem hamstrung by internal legacy systems, business models to defend, high return on investment requirements, and so on.

There are also important differences between different players. Apple’s culture, mindset, skills and capabilities are very different to Wal-Mart’s.

Then there are the start-ups, forever frustrated by the chicken-and-egg dilemmas of being small [Investor: ‘we won’t invest in you until you prove you can scale’. Start-up: ‘we can’t prove we can scale without investment’]. Start-ups have their fantasies about having the brand recognition, reach, and resources of the big brands. However, they have some strengths big brands dream about: speed, focus, freedom, passion.

In the market for PIMS, all this is still to play out. But the market is on the move. Companies need to work out where they can best play, and how.

Ctrl-Shift’s analysis of the emerging market for Personal Information Management Services (PIMS) is available free here.