The maturing smartphone industry no longer excites customers as it once did - do you really get excited about a slightly larger display or more pixels on your phone camera? Given the familiarity with almost predictable annual upgrades, it’s no surprise that smartphones sales have stagnated. Against this backdrop small businesses have been very active - about 94% of them have successfully implemented smartphones into their core business strategy.

Business owners can’t be too comfortable though. The mobile industry offers a false sense of stability for business owners who assume a Facebook page or a smartphone app are the best ways to engage with consumers. In fact, disruptive technologies are emerging; business owners will need to change their practices to keep up with these emerging trends or risk getting left behind.

Here are a few of those impending innovations:

VR: Not just a wearable headset

In the future, small businesses will need to integrate quality VR capabilities into their technologies and showrooms so customers can get a “hands-on” experience with products and services via VR wearables. Already, some markets, like real estate and retail, allow customers to virtually shop and test out products in fully immersive environments. Others are using VR for advertising and marketing like geofencing tools.

The ability to attract top-tier talent is another draw. Many small businesses are already implementing VR in recruitment and training tools, while others offer walking tours of business headquarters and interactive information on the small business, its culture, and the market to create enchanting and memorable experiences for customers.

It’s expected that by 2020, VR software will be a $24.5 billion market. By that time, over 200 million VR headsets will have been sold worldwide. While it’s a far cry from the 6.1 billion projected smartphone users by 2020, it’s clear that VR is gaining ground faster than most technologies and will be a great complement, in addition to the smartphone. This will fundamentally transform the mobile experience we know today.

While it’s an important component of the technology, the VR headset is just one accessory among many that promise to take center-stage. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Samsung are already leading the pack with other wearable mobile devices like DayDream, Oculus, and Gear VR (respectively).

As VR becomes an increasingly bigger part of our daily lives, functioning in ways smartphones cannot, it is up to small businesses to capitalize on this trend to effectively optimize the sales, quality, and engagement of their products.

Replace everything with AR

Your consumers won’t want to carry another device around if all their calls, chats, movies, and games are auto-beamed in front of their eyes and spread out across the world around them. In fact, AR might end up completely replacing TVs, smartphones, and many other devices with a screen. And that future isn’t far away. AR is already starting to be deployed and will likely see a major uptick over the next decade.

Industry leaders like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Magic Leap (Google-backed) are already working towards building standalone AR headsets that will be able to project detailed 3D images into your eyes. Apple is also rumored to be integrating AR features into the upcoming iPhone 8.

The popularity of AR will trickle down into smaller markets, allowing small businesses to implement these tools to solve problems for customers. Since AR overlays virtual content upon the physical world and allows for the two to interact in real time, customers can have more immersive experiences with businesses and their products. Augmented reality will help customers build more profound positive experiences, make quicker purchasing decisions, and more effectively troubleshoot issues without physical travel.

In addition, AR marketing and advertising tools are expected to foster customer loyalty and product satisfaction. Experts report that businesses, especially manufacturing industries, can help consumers with novice expertise understand how to use and repair complex products more easily, a role currently dominated by YouTube. All in all, small companies should make sure they thoughtfully implement upcoming AR products to make the customer experience simpler, more convenient, and more entertaining.

Intelligent Verbal Interfaces

Spoken commands directed towards intelligent personal assistants can accomplish tasks more efficiently, saving customers valuable time. Using digital computation, the intelligent verbal interfaces (IVIs) are expected to significantly reduce--if not eliminate--the keyboard, mouse, and large screens from business interfaces. Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs), Chatbots, and Burolandschaft are IVI mediums which offer customers more accurate insights with easily-accessed information. Depending on a business’ specific service, IVIs can be programmed to offer a wealth of data which will help educate customers on the product. They facilitate more direct communication with users to keep them satisfied with their products.

According to estimates by Ovum, there will be over 7.5 billion active digital assistant installations by 2021. Google Assistant, Bixby, Siri, Alex, and Cortana are expected to take the lead while these assistants are synonymous with smartphones, Ovum predicts that smart TVs, set-top boxes and media-streaming devices will offer a greater opportunity as the hub for the digital assistant. Amazon has built a strong position for itself in the bug space with Alexa and Echo becoming the prime emerging non-smartphone platform.

The cloud computing and remote services offered via IVIs will give smaller businesses access to many of the same competitive resources and big data that larger companies have always utilized. With sophisticated resources at their disposal, it suddenly will become possible to conduct marketing research, perform outreach tasks, and organize data to improve and personalize fast customer communications. By tailoring their communications to local geographic regions and hyper-personalized data, businesses can ensure their customer interactions are effective and thoughtful. And the more data that becomes available for IVIs to use and learn, the more businesses can track engagement and improve communications, thereby boosting customer connectivity and loyalty.

Final Word

In a matter of years, virtual personal assistants will likely become standard, voice-activated control will become the norm, and VR and AR will be a way of life. As these nascent technologies begin to morph into mainstream products and services, small businesses will need to either leverage the change or get left behind.

New mobile innovations won’t make sense for every business endeavor, especially in the early stages, but used smartly they can become competitive advantages that transform the marketing and customer communication processes for small businesses while cutting down on revenue acquisition costs. VR and AR can completely redefine and benefit how small business work and interact with their customers. Exciting times!

About the Author(s)

 Ed  Sappin

Ed Sappin is the CEO of Sappin Global Strategies, which seeks to build the next generation of global innovators in emerging areas including bitcoin and the blockchain, space technology, 3D printing, and artificial intelligence. Previously, Ed Sappin was Director, Project Development for the alternative energy division of BP.

Sappin Global Strategies
How Small Businesses Can Capitalize On Tomorrow’s Mobile Innovations