Is innovation for innovation’s sake ever worth investing in?
It’s a question all businesses should consider twice before committing to the latest trends just because they are popular. That’s especially true of gambling firms, with so many technological and regulatory costs to consider already.
While any R & D can lead to further breakthroughs in future, companies can’t simply invest without any real ROI if what they’ve invested in does little to innovate the market.
Voice-recognition technology (VRT) is the best example I can use to highlight my point. I say that as someone with two Amazon Echo devices at home – both were gifts but I’ll happily accept I’m part of the problem here.
Since Christmas, I have only found Alexa useful in helping me with two things: checking the weather and listening to music. Even then, it would often be quicker to do both with a couple of swipes on my phone, so difficult Amazon’s VRT can be to manoeuvre with the simplest of commands.
For a long time now, I’ve suspected the mega corporations behind the Echo, Google Assistant and other cool machines ploughed serious money into the technology without actually evaluating how much value it would add for the consumer.
Google’s latest advertising campaign in the UK backs up my assessment.
Whenever I visit Youtube, I am greeted by snappy 10-second adverts telling me the following: “You know when you wake up, get washed, brush teeth, get breakfast, burn toast and it feels like there’s no time for anything else, even breathing. Okay Google, tell me the latest news headlines.”
If you don’t have time to breathe and might be late for work, why would you stop and ask for the news? Besides, is "asking for the news" really the strongest tagline Google could have gone with, out of all the possible scenarios in the world?
Don’t worry, my complaints don’t stop there. By the time the device has listed the relevant headlines one by one, you could have scrolled through dozens on your mobile. There’s also a screaming cat in the advert but it’s not really made clear why. It all seems a little desperate.
Another advert asks if washing the dishes feels like it’s going "on and on and on." Google Home’s solution? To turn some music on.
Here I was expecting something to actually help me wash dishes. Again, you could use your phone to play music rather than spending what is not a small amount of money on a VRT device to do exactly the same thing.
My final example: "You know when you’re cooking and you go to check the recipe and ‘argh screen lock, sticky hands.’ Just ask okay Google, what’s the next step?" Google then replies "now add eggs."
I personally have never found myself in such a specific situation. Even if I was in the middle of cooking, would I really forget something as simple as "now add eggs?"
The lesson here, in my view, is if you have go to such extreme lengths to explain why your product can be useful to your customer, the simple fact is it is not useful to your customer.
Why would a company as big as Google have to fabricate such a niche situation when targeting such a mass audience?
It feels like the SEO giant is trying to create a non-existent problem after having spent so much building a solution, acting first and thinking later, rather than creating a solution for a genuine existing problem.
In the race to be the VRT market leader, companies have cared more about the race itself than actually creating a useful product.
It’s similar with a lot of Amazon’s recent adverts, too. Plenty of pleasant situations are described or portrayed. But it almost seems like these companies are saying "please, look, there is a very slim chance you could find yourself in this situation and our device can potentially make your life slightly more comfortable if it ever does happen."
Let’s take a high-profile example to compare: Uber. No Uber advert has ever had to describe 10 different situations where a customer could benefit from using its app. That’s because the advantages are obvious: the product works and no one needs to be convinced of its benefits.
Of course, if you enjoy using your Echos and Google Minis, I’m not here to shame or belittle you. Many have bought these devices and will continue to use them more and more as time goes on. Maybe it's the marketing at fault, not the product.
I am also a big fan of using these devices, and their producers marketing them, as solely music devices. Here is where they are most useful, practical and, as little true difference as it makes, innovative.
But, from a business or investment point of view, companies should be warned – specifically in the gambling sector as it’s an idea some organisations have flirted with – this technology is not yet worth investing in: at the very least, not in its current state.
If its creators have to put so much work into explaining why VRT should be used, gambling suppliers and operators will have to do even more.
Odds change in a flash, anyway, so why would someone sacrifice their mobile screen full of statistics, to wait for a longer period of time as a machine provides a smaller amount of information?
As has been highlighted before, endless errors when understanding betting terminology and different dialects complicate this user journey even further.
Gambling Insider first explored VRT betting in depth in its July/August magazine and the general conclusion was VRT is not yet ready to make a big impact within the betting sector. I, equally, am not dismissing its future prospects entirely.
To my mind however, Google’s latest marketing push confirms the VRT revolution is even further away than any of us initially thought.