As daily life becomes ever more saturated with technology, companies are ramping up their competition for consumers’ time, attention and money.

To maintain the explosive growth expected of them, tech companies are trying to expand their role in customers’ lives by providing more apps, more notifications, and more IoT immersion.

While this works, with new products or features emerging as a result, the recently-folded Snapcash from Snapchat suggests that saturating your existing customers with new features is not a guaranteed growth strategy.

What is quickly becoming clear is that the saturation of our homes, phones and inboxes is becoming unsustainable—but it is proving difficult to break away from this model. Some companies, remaining stuck in the saturation mindset, even design their user interfaces to “trick” users into spending more time on their services or using more of their offerings than they need, artificially growing and retaining their user base.

However, forward-looking companies are beginning to turn the tide. Those who want to be enduring fixtures of the consumer’s technology ecosystem are doing so by centering their design and innovation on the wider needs of the customer.

Consider the phones, wearables and smart-speakers that are becoming seamlessly integrated into our lives. Companies building these products have made it paramount that the technology’s disruptiveness is mitigated. Features like “Do not Disturb” on smart devices, which suppresses notifications until they are manually enabled, or blue-light filters, which shift screen light to be warmer and less disruptive to sleep, improve the way their products work with customer needs (like productivity or sleep) rather than against them.

Beyond personal devices, network providers like Comcast are also introducing features to increase control or “pause” the WiFi in their home; Instagram and Facebook now provide dashboards to let users track how much time they spend on the app. For a population fatigued with the pull between their devices and their intentions, these features provide some respite.

Companies like Apple and Google are moving even further, making consumer-directed design a central focus of their software platforms. Apple’s iOS 12, announced at the World Wide Developer’s Conference in June, was largely centered around making it easier for users to spend less time on their devices.

ScreenTime tracks time spent on device as well as specific apps, distinguishes between productive, entertainment, and social use, and allows for users and parents to set custom controls on the amount of time that can be spent on devices. Siri will now learn from your interactions and manage notifications, ensuring the user is only interrupted by the notifications most important to them.

Just a month prior, Google announced similar upcoming features in their new Android update. The update is in line with the company’s new theme of “Digital Wellbeing”, with a focus on features aimed at reducing distraction and improving lifestyle for their customers. The myriad of tech innovations in line with this theme across multiple levels of their platform reflected a commitment to integrating a consumer-centric approach into their core product philosophy.

In a market focused on gaining and maintaining people’s time and attention on devices, it would seem counterintuitive for large tech companies to encourage an approach of moderation and user autonomy. But as we are increasingly overwhelmed by notifications and alerts, companies are recognizing that maximizing within their traditional models is burdensome to their users.

If large tech companies fail to meet the new demand for healthy “balance” in tech, they face serious challenges both from their fellow top-dogs and from start-ups who are providing alternatives (like this minimalist smart phone). The innovative, differentiated product is now the one that aligns the goals of the product with that of the user.

As is highlighted in the 2018 Technology Vision and a previous blog post on socially responsible business, the modern consumer prioritizes the impact of the company—both on themselves and at large—in their purchasing decisions. Companies must adapt to serve the desires of a population that is not simply looking to maximize the reach of technology in their lives, but instead the reach of their lives through technology.

By prioritizing the relationship between the tech and the customer, ensuring that those interactions are as meaningful as possible, companies can avoid being filtered out with the noise, and cement themselves in the pockets and homes of the consumers they want the most—the ones that will come back tomorrow.

To read more about the technology trends impacting businesses, check out the 2018 Technology Vision.

Lara Pesce Ares

Technology R&D Senior Analyst

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