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Consumer Tech Encroaches on Durable Goods

Posted by: Alex Foss on March 05, 2013

Self-driving cars

Self-driving cars have seen a lot of progress in the past year, but the latest represents a surprising intersection of robotics and consumer tech. Oxford University students recently demonstrated how an Apple iPad can be used as the control center for a self-driving Nissan. It can engage “autopilot” on familiar routes, avoid obstacles and pedestrians, and return control to the driver with a touch of the breaks.

Cool-factor aside, this is one of many recent examples of how consumer software and technology are finding their ways into product classes traditionally dominated by industrial heavyweights. Some near century-old giants of automotive, aerospace and manufacturing are finding new competitors in previously unrelated categories.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration recently granted permission to American Airlines to use the iPad as pilots’ resource for regulations and aircraft manuals. In addition to eliminating 35 lbs. of paper from the pilots’ flight bags, it allows the airline to avoid costly aircraft retrofits with dedicated electronic flight bag consoles.
  • MirrorLink, a technology that duplicates the display and touch controls of smartphones into automotive head-units, is gaining support from device and entertainment companies. This could compromise automakers' ability to market their own branded infotainment and telematics systems and maintain consistency of the driving experience.
  • The increasing accessibility of 3D printing technology is threatening to disrupt the value chains of all kinds of industries. There are implications for intellectual property, labor, the size and location of plant and equipment, shipping and – perhaps most importantly – product design. 3D printers are already being used to make on-demand spare parts, prosthetics and product prototypes.

The modern computing landscape, characterized by pocket-sized devices stuffed with sensors and backed by vast cloud computing power, has changed consumers’ expectations for usability, connectivity and access to the state-of-the-art. For brands whose product lifecycles are measured in decades, it will be ever more important to develop platforms that allow their products to keep pace with the innovation happening around them.

The components of Brand Strength can be helpful tools for looking at this challenge. Some manufactures will attempt to stake out their differentiation with proprietary branded solutions, at the risk of losing relevance because of rapid obsolescence. Others will try to maintain relevance by creating transparent conduits for consumers’ existing tech ecosystems, at the risk of commoditizing their own products and compromising consistency. Successful brands in the durable goods and industrial categories will see these components not as tradeoffs, but as mutual necessities in maintaining and growing brand value.

Alex Foss is an Associate Consultant, Brand Strategy at Interbrand San Francisco.

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