When most marketers and brands talk about harnessing the power of the Internet in-store, you’re often likely to hear plans to target consumers, or to remake the shopping experience for the average person. EE, a UK mobile operator, is turning this notion on its head with its service called Connected Retail. Offered to shops in the UK, the program aims to help brick and mortar establishments compete with online shopping by, in part, cutting down on long lines in-store. According to the company’s data, retailers lose millions in revenue each year to long lines and impatient customers who would rather shop online – 73% of customers said they would abandon their purchases if they had to wait for more than 5 minutes in line. To help, EE offers retailers a combination of heat-mapping technology so that stores can anticipate and react to lines before they form, in-store Wifi to connect staff and customers, and send customers personalized offers and promotions via their smartphones. Such a full-service model could become common if successful, and points to a potentially fruitful way forward for technology in aiding the shopping experience
In its ongoing play to become the dominant player in the music distribution arena, Spotify has forged deals with 10 audio equipment manufacturers to develop a system, launching today, called Spotify Connect. Connect allows users to seamlessly switch between playing music on their handsets and Wi-Fi connected home audio devices. As an added bonus, any Spotify user on your Wi-Fi network can control the music, so getting friends involved is simple. Music providers getting into the hardware game is nothing new, recalling products from Zune to AirPlay, but this system could be the push needed to bring true ubiquity to Spotify, and could certainly be the backbone of a car based system which has been a major goal of Spotify for some time.
UK startup Renew is equipping a few of London’s Renew Pods with “Renew Orbs” which use WiFi to track the proximity and speed of people walking past and identify the maker of their smartphone. The company allows clients to use the trash cans to construct statistical analyses on ‘trending demographics’ in high profile locations – for example, many iPhone users walk down a specific block. Many Londoners will be shocked to find out that this is actually happening without their permission, raising the same privacy issues as many other forms of tracking softwares. So it won’t be surprising to read about backlash against this software and tracking in the name of targeting advertising.
University of Washington computer scientists announced that they have developed a gesture-recognition technology that leverages Wi-Fi signals to detect specific movements without the need for sensors of cameras aimed at the human body. All that’s needed is an adapted Wi-Fi router, along with a few wireless devices spread throughout any given home, and users should be able to control household appliances and other electronics from any room with a simple gesture. It works through the smart router’s ability to interpret the frequencies of the Wi-Fi signal, which are altered by the human gesture that interrupts or alters them. This would have a similar – but far broader – impact to the Xbox Kinect, while proving cheaper and easier to install. It will be important to watch where this technology ends up in the near future.
Boingo today announced that it will now offer AT&T subscribers access to its hotspots at international airports beginning today, with service expansions planned throughout the rest of the year. Simultaneously, Boingo subscribers will be able to access AT&T hotspots free of charge. This expansion means that AT&T users traveling abroad will have a much wider Wi-Fi access footprint, which should ease roaming charges for the customers. The arrangement ultimately shores up gaps in both partners’ networks, and helps to reduce AT&T’s network congestion, which should, in the long run, reduce infrastructure costs. In the end, customers win with this move, as it’s now likely more difficult to run into overage territory, and much easier to access higher quality Internet access in a wider variety of locations.
O2 announced that it’s the latest mobile operator in the UK to offer customers free Wi-Fi access on the London Underground, joining EE, Virgin Media, and Vodafone. Any users with an existing O2 contract who also have O2 WiFi service will automatically be registered for the service. More interestingly, O2 WiFi is a free app that’s available both in Google Play and the App Store, which means that the possibility exists that the first universally free WiFi might be activated when O2 launches their service. Customers will be able to use the service on up to five devices simultaneously, as well as WiFi-only devices. WIth O2’s service, only one network operator won’t offer WiFi for free in the Tube – it remains to be seen if this service will come across the pond anytime soon.
Kickstarter-shunned startup Lockitron recently announced its system for networking its deadbolt attachment for use with smartphones, and it’s quite clever. The device is connected to the internet via an Electric Imp wi-fi chip, but without a screen or input interface, selecting connection preferences poses an issue. A smartphone app allows users to input their network information which is then translated into flashes of light played back to a sensor on the Lockitron itself. This computer-readable data transmission could be applied across many industries including as a part of customer loyalty programs or out of home installations, giving the slightest bit of tactile interaction back in an otherwise wireless world.
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