Expanse: Smart Technology

iOS13 & The End of High Street Retail?

Last week I read an article on the Business Advice website about a recent study which predicts that High Street Shopping (retail) will die out in 2082 as all retail sales will be made online.

While the article suggests the necessary human element of retail may prolong this, it doesn’t consider the evolution of the online experience. It is also hard to assume a straight line reduction in the shift to online.

Tech enables a Paradigm Shift away from the Physical

When we look at shows like The Expanse on Netflix (which is great sci-fi if you’re interested) – the tech on display here takes things like “AirDrop” to a whole new level, allows devices to hand off content to each other seamlessly and adds intelligent overlays which adapt to what’s on screen. Content is accessed naturally – it is less about apps, more true engagement (think Cortana, Siri & Alexa).

Although this is 200 years in the future, if we apply the same approach to retail we can see that paradigm of shopping itself will change through the development of online systems. Larger displays, holographic projections (via augmented reality at first), and accessibility to real people through these connections removes the need for physical shops as these shops can be brought to wherever you are. It may not be 200 years hence as much of these tools are already there, but just not yet integrated.

The Evolution of AI

Why did I mention iOS13 at the outset? We’ve only just had iOS12 (at the time of writing).

Artificial Intelligence. I believe we are on the cusp of the next jump in AI through smart devices. Apple’s acquisition of Workflow in 2017, rebranding as Shortcuts in 2018 with the release of iOS12, and some slick marketing to encourage us to use it to develop Siri Actions provides us a new tool we never thought we needed.

What is Shortcuts?

It’s a pseudo-programming language that allows you to create workflows (hence the old title) that connect a series of Actions (see what they did there) that string different applications together in sequence. It’s a framework that allows the user to create their own Internet of Things to link apps together in intelligent ways to simplify life through new vocal commands (with thanks to Siri).

I played with Workflow previously and it’s not easy to knock out a workflow. It is programming. Even Apple acknowledged that you need “a little work” to do this in their slick presentation. But, given the number of people who own an iOS12 enabled device, it won’t be long before there is a whole ecosystem of new Siri Actions being generated and, more importantly here, for Apple to learn from.

And that’s where iOS13 is going to change the game. As we create new workflows (shortcuts), we teach Apple’s AI about how we really use the collection of Apps we have installed on our smart devices. We teach the machine new commands it cannot figure out on its own, not even with Apple’s help. Once Apple collect a canon of such commands, Siri can embrace these and automatically allow us to apply natural language interaction that has always been the plan (though currently falls short). We can start doing the things we see in the sci-fi shows, and so the need for the physical presence – retail in the context of this article – becomes a much nearer-term proposition.

If retailers start looking at how to integrate and embrace this shift, I think that we could well be retailing very differently in 2020 than we are today and I believe High Street Retail will become a relic of the early 21st Century. While some very specialised shops may still exist, the bulk of our routine shopping activity will shift into new models enabled by the technology to come.