Nick wrote recently about the Pebble Watch, the watch that allows you to connect to your iPhone or Android data streams, and Google Glasses, two instances of the growing number of gateways to virtually constructed experiences. I find this connection between people and objects a fascinating development in ecosystem culture. It means that ecosytems become more complex (with more devices, developers, producers) and more laden with opportunity. But there is another effect. There is a compression of physical and virtual worlds and, in that process, physical goods no longer need intrinsic value. They are a gateway.
To date an ecosystem has tended to form around a platform and a single device or device family – the iPhone and then Android. Then of course the tablets of Apple and Samsung came along. But the physical world adjunct or gateway to the platform is proliferating quickly. Here is GigaOm on the issue:
With the rise of consumer health-tracking devices and social-media-connected mobile health apps, the quantified-self movement has moved from data-obsessed engineers and hackers into the mainstream, thanks in part to new gadgets (such as the Nike FuelBand and the Fitbit) and apps like Strava and the Eatery.
The quantified-self movement already makes use of the Nike Plus, and in fact seemed stalled there for a while. But FuelBand, Pebble Watch, and Google Glasses are surely just the beginning of humans finding ways to augment their productivity and pleasure through connectivity using a plethora of devices. At this point connectivity becomes a whole lot more purposeful – to date it has seemed like connectivity for its own sake. There are other projects in the works such as Sidecar (due for launch soon).
But what it also raises is a very large question about the future of physical vs digital products. Right now the western system of consumption is configured around physical product design, production and distribution – at least in terms of how we characterize economic growth and business strategy. You either do product or you do servies, or you try to layer services onto product.Going forward product looks to be quite different.
What we are seeing is a sea change. The drift towards virtual production is becoming a strong tide. Products like Fitbit are not only fantastically valuable – they are also both extraordinarily personal and a gateway to the virtual with no intrinsic value of their own.
For those of us interesting in ecosystems it’s time to put in some overtime. What used to be a virtually connected economic group is fast becoming a hybrid of physical goods and virtual value.