I find it interesting how, in many conversations I have about the business and technology landscape, so many people make a distinction between the “tech” industry and everyone else. It is certainly true today, but when I put my long term thinking cap on, it strikes me this will not always be the case. Eventually, every company will be a technology company of some kind. What we call technology today, we think of hardware with sensors, microprocessors, memory, software, connectivity, and a host of other things. Within our definitions, it makes sense there are tech companies and there are other kinds of companies. But the ones I think may be the most interesting in the future are the companies today we would not consider tech companies. Let’s use a few examples to make this point.
Sleep Number: While Sleep Number highlights their beds’ “technology” I’m not sure the company themselves would say they are a tech company. Sleep Number makes mattresses. Sleep number technology is designed to help you get better night’s sleep. Their new Sleep IQ solution embeds sensors in the mattress to track your sleep and give you all kinds of insights in how to sleep better as an extension of what they are actually selling. Sleep Number is not selling technology, they are selling better sleep. Technology is playing a role in that process and is a means, not an end.
Babolat: Because I play a lot of competitive tennis I use this example frequently. Babolat sells several of the most popular tennis rackets in the world. In two versions of these best selling rackets, they have included a microchip and a series of sensors into the handle. This allows the racket to receive information about your swing, impact location of the ball, forehands vs. backhands, power, and a plethora of other useful things for analyzing your swing. Babolat certainly uses all kinds of technology to make their rackets stronger and lighter but, here again, I don’t think Babolat would position themselves as a technology company. And in this case, with the addition of Babolat Play technology, they are not actually selling me technology. They are selling me a competitive advantage.
When it comes to sports, there are a number of examples from connected soccer balls and basketballs, sensors you put on your golf clubs, baseball/softball bat, tennis rackets, and more. Again, the technology is an enabler of something greater. The tech is out of the way, rather than in the way. Too many technology companies work so hard on the technology that it gets in, rather than out of, the way. This is why companies who are not actually technology companies today but who will use technology as a means to an end are among the most interesting to me.
As the smartphone’s supply chain scale democratizes many components and drives costs down in sensors, microprocessors, memory, and even software, we will see more companies like Sleep IQ and Babolat be able to integrate cutting edge technology into everything they make and offer at mainstream prices. A good example of this is the June Oven.
The June oven is an intelligent oven. It is loaded with technology — from a CPU, to cameras for visual processing, software, and connectivity. It is easily the smartest oven out there. It can recognize the food you put into it and cook it accordingly (so it claims). It can self-monitor what is being cooked so to adjust the heat for perfectly cooked food. It has video cameras in it so you can use your smartphone to look at what you are cooking and see how it’s doing. There is a lot of great technology in this oven. But it costs nearly $1500.00. But, eventually, every oven sold will include all of these features and more. Every company making ovens will load it with sensors, microprocessors, software, and a host of other features to help you cook better food. Because ultimately, they are selling better cooked and tasting food. Technology is the means of an end for that goal.
A common phrase around the valley is “technology for technology’s sake.” It is the implication that too often technology is developed or integrated into something just for the sake of the technology. This is common among engineering and R&D labs. It is when these products come to market things can get weird. Google Glass comes to mind. The focus is too much on the technology or enabling a product to do something just because the technology exists or said company invented it. Technology companies sometimes focus too much on the technology. This is where companies who focus on other things like beds, cars, ovens, appliances, sports equipment, retail stores, etc., will be the interesting story when it comes to using technology and integrating it as a means to something greater than just the technology itself.