Written by Bill Siwicki
While consumers and the mainstream press have been salivating over Apple Inc.’s just announced iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Pro and new Apple TV, retailers need to keep their eyes on two very important details amidst yesterday’s hoopla: the rechristening and expansion of Force Touch screen technology into 3D Touch, and, enhancements in iOS 9 that will allow consumers to upload and add ad blocking extensions to Safari.
3D Touch is the big development for mobile commerce. When Apple introduced the Apple Watch, it also introduced Force Touch, screen technology on the watch that enables new interactions based on two types of actions: a tap and a press. For the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, Apple has enhanced Force Touch and changed the name to 3D Touch, which now includes three types of actions: tap, press and deep press.
Why is this important to retailers?
Because it essentially is hooking up a mouse to a phone. By touching the screen of a new iPhone in certain ways, consumers for all intents and purposes now have the capabilities of right-click, left-click, double-click and hover. 3D Touch wildly expands what mobile app designers can enable.
For example, a tap on an app icon on the home screen opens the app. But a deep press on that same icon could immediately send a user to the today’s deals section within the app. Or a press on a product image can display a window with tech specs, much like would happen when using a mouse to hover over an item on a PC, while a deep press on that same image could launch a live chat window. A deep press on that image could even lead to literal one-touch buying. The possibilities for retailers are just about endless.
Problems with inconsistency
But if a deep press on a product image means one thing on Amazon.com and another on eBay and still another at Target, this could cause confusion with consumers who are used to their iPhones working in a highly consistent fashion.
“3D Touch is one of those exciting technologies that is easy for consumers to adopt, and it will be terrific with the pre-installed Apple apps where Apple controls a very consistent user experience,” says Josh Crandall, CEO of Netpop Research LLC, an Internet and mobile consumer research firm. “When it comes to opening up 3D Touch to developers, including retailers, the experience may not be so perfect. What features should be presented when people click on a photo? Would the same experience be appropriate for a retailer of running shoes versus a retailer of electronics? There are a host of questions that this new technology opens up for developers, and it would benefit consumers if the user experience was consistent.”
Some retailers’ immediate reaction to this new development in mobile design is quite welcoming. They see 3D Touch as the next step in the sometimes tricky evolution of mobile technology.
“This definitely is a new way to interact with technology, and I'm sure all industries will find innovative ways to use it,” says Vishal Agarwal, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at mass merchant e-retailer Choxi.com Inc., whose arsenal includes an iPhone app. “For retailers it should have innovative uses. What will be interesting to see is which companies adopt it first and how, for instance to see a quick preview of a product or to enable one-touch payment.”
Retailers need to be innovating with 3D Touch now, because as soon as the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus hit the streets on September 25, Apple’s preinstalled apps and the mobile apps of any number of giant retailers on the inside track with Apple will be making robust use of 3D Touch and dazzling consumers with all sorts of new ways to interact with their phones. As usual, iPhone users quickly will come to expect the latest and greatest.
Blocking mobile ads
Another big development from yesterday’s Apple announcement is the news that with the debut this month of iOS 9, Apple will begin allowing the addition of content-blocking extensions to its Safari web browser. Put more simply: Consumers will now be able to download apps from the Apple App Store that integrate functionality into the web browser that blocks advertisements. The ad blockers can stop ads, cookies, pop-ups, images and other types of content from being downloaded to a phone or tablet. Apple will not offer an Apple branded ad blocker; rather, it’s leaving it up to consumers to choose from third-party apps on the market.
According to a recent study by Adobe and PageFair, 16% of U.S. Internet users had ad blockers deployed in Q2 2015, which is about 45 million Internet users. The study projects $10.7 billion in U.S. ad revenue losses because of ad blockers. Apple has always been the mobile trendsetter, so if any company can make ad blocking catch on, it would be Apple. But will consumers flock to ad blocking en masse?
While the prospect sounds tantalizing from the consumer perspective and frightening from the retail marketer’s point of view, it’s very unclear if the average iPhone user will run to adopt the technology—or even be aware it exists. The typical iPhone user does not take advantage of every single feature the phone offers because they don’t even realize many features are there. Many times Apple users accidentally stumble upon longstanding features.
“The games played between technology solutions and marketers trying to reach their target market will continue to evolve,” Crandall says. “There's no doubt ad blocking technology will be adopted by more users as awareness of the solution increases in the mass market. Hopefully, this development will lead to more contextual, relevant advertising solutions that are more meaningful to consumers, such as more sponsored content and native advertising opportunities that are interwoven into the experiences that users want to receive.”
From blocking to innovation
The move by Apple to make ad blocking easier in Safari will create a wider base of ad blocker users, but consumers will not adopt ad blocking in a big way, Agarwal says.
“Regardless of the degree to which consumers adopt ad blockers, it will be a level playing field for all retailers,” he says. “No one retailer or group of retailers will have an advantage, and we will all look for more innovative ways to advertise. This should open up new channels and help retailers serve more relevant ads to consumers. Perhaps this is what will trigger the true next generation of personalized advertising.”
Apple made a lot of announcements yesterday, but retailers are wise to start focusing on how they can use 3D Touch to their best advantage in mobile commerce and how they might start refining their mobile marketing strategies if iPhone users take a liking to ad blocking in Safari.