This is a follow-up on my previous article What is Internet of (Virtual) Things.

In this article, I argue that Internet of (Virtual) Things, may dramatically change the way you and I learn about new products in the near future.  It may overtake the dominance of TV commercials, a $500B industry, and celebrity endorsements, a $50Bn industry, because highly connected virtual products that have a digital identity (=IoT) can interact with consumers directly in an intimate way as if experiencing the real product in our daily lives, which I argue is the best way to test products.  Today's emerging technologies that could make this happen are advanced 3D printing and Augmented Reality, provided they develop past their current niches (designers and gamers respectively) into mass-market technologies that work seamlessly with mobile and wearable devices.  Google Glass, Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens are still niche devices, but once they become smaller, simpler and easier they have a real chance to change product marketing forever.  This article explains why I think so.

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Take a moment to think back how you used to discover new products?  It has changed dramatically over the years, but the guiding principles of product launch marketing have stayed the same: Timing ('be first') and Trust ('trust the messenger').

For some new products you only find out about them when a friend or colleague shows them to you at home, school or work.  In fact, not too long ago, before mass media and internet, this was the only way to launch products.  Yet, it is the slowest, riskiest and most expensive method for the product manufacturers, because they have to build and distribute the products upfront and hope that it catches on.  Yes, they can do some upfront focus groups, but it remains a long and risky process.  Still, the positive aspect of this approach is that the new product is introduced directly to consumers via close friends and shown in the context of how the product is used.

With the emergence of mass media as well as e-commerce, the product manufacturers have been able to speed up the time-to-market and therefore reduce their upfront costs and risks.  This has made TV, Radio and E-commerce ads the most popular method to launch new mass consumer products.  But the negative about this approach is that the product is introduced indirectly by an unknown product spokesperson.  True, this is why product manufacturers often hire well-known celebrities to endorse their products, but it is still not the same as having your friend show you the product.  

So what is the the solution?  How can you introduce products 1) directly to consumers in the context of how the product is used and 2) with the fastest time to market?   Advertisers have taken to social media to allow them to position their products as if coming from your close friends.  And crowdfunding sites introduce (virtual) products to consumer-investors before they are built.  However, none of these has been able to do both.

Could Augmented Reality and 3D printing fill this void?  Could early product concepts gain a digital identity and then connect directly with consumers in what I call an Internet of (Virtual) Things?

If this is possible, what could this mean in 5-10 years?  Well, imagine that when Apple CEO Tim Cook unveils a new product, such as the Apple Watch, instead of seeing a fancy product video introduction at a press conference and then having to wait 6 months for the Apple Watch to hit the stores, consumers can immediately after the press conference try on and experience a virtual Apple Watch on their own wrists using Augmented Reality or advanced 3D printing.  Consumers can then familiarize themselves with the device in a real setting.  For instance, when they go for a run with the virtual watch, they can experience how an Apple Watch helps them while exercising.  If the experience feels real, word of mouth about the product will spread very quickly without a single TV commercial or celebrity endorsement.  Most importantly for Apple, all of this happens long before the actual watch is manufactured and distributed to the stores, reducing the upfront risks and expense.

In short, there is an enormous potential to disrupt how we launch new products by building a connected world of Internet of (Virtual) Things and then using Augmented Reality and advanced 3D printing technologies to allow the consumer to test the product very early.  The reward is the disruption of a $550B industry.