Differentiate with digital

Products Are Going Digital — What Leading Examples Are *You* Seeing Out There?

Randy Heffner
Vice President, Principal Analyst
July 27, 2012

Here's a flash of the blindingly obvious: More and more products are going digital. You know this, but what I'm interested in is how they are going digital and to what degree. I see three major aspects: (1) the product itself becomes digital; (2) a physical product adds digital technology; and/or (3) processes and context around a physical product become digitally infused. Let me offer a sort of continuum of examples, and then I want to ask a question:

  • Music (nearly 100% digital). The greater part of music bought these days is in the form of a 100% digital product. 
  • Health band. With a health band (e.g., Fitbit, Nike FuelBand), I don't really care about the physical product, but I'll put up with it to get the digital benefit: lots of data (and more) about my workouts and health.
  • Cameras. A digital camera is a physical product that uses a combination of physical and digital technology, and I actually care about some of its physical design (e.g., lenses). It produces a 100% digital artifact (photos), and the process around the photos is digitally infused.
  • USB picture frame. Part physical, part digital. By replacing the center of a picture frame with a digital screen, I get a new twist on an old standby. But, working with the digital part still requires a high degree of physical manipulation (carry a USB drive to the frame, etc., etc.).
  • WiFi picture frame. Part physical, even more digital. The WiFi bit bumps it way above a USB picture frame in terms of seamless integration into a digital world. I can email a picture to the thing, or maybe tag a photo on Facebook and suddenly it shows up.
  • Clothing. For now, clothing is pretty close to 100% physical, but with the EON Interactive Mirror, the buying process might take on a significant, new digital component. Clothing itself could take on digital elements.
  • Cosmetics (nearly 100% physical). With cosmetics, EZface Virtual Mirror does a similar magic mirror type of thing. But my (admittedly uneducated) guess is that, for cosmetics, it will be a while before digital technology gets inserted into the product itself (although cosmetics containers and applicators might have some possibilities. . .).

The examples above center on consumer products, but they're just the top-of-mind ones I happened to think of. Other speculative examples might include cars negotiating with petrol stations on fuel price (an old Scott McNealy favorite), downloading apps to your digital thermostat, WiFi control of a high-end sound system, or maybe there's something crazy cool you could do by mashing power tools with the digital world. I'm hoping you get the idea.

So here's my question: What are some great examples, especially "push the envelope" examples, of innovative and surprising ways that products are going digital — both in the product itself and in the buying and usage context around a product?

Please post a comment and let me know what you're thinking about or seeing out there that you think is really great. . .

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