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  • Writer's pictureJohn Ennis

Eye on AI - April 24th, 2020

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!


Hi everyone! This week, we’ll be taking a look at a few modes of company-to-consumer communication that are rapidly increasing in popularity, both in general and in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, and how companies are adjusting their strategies as customers flock to new communication channels. Enjoy!

Hearables on the Steep Rise

To begin, let’s take a look at a form of brand communication that has been on the steady rise since before the coronavirus: hearables (think AirPods), or wearable audio devices that offer at least one additional function. According to an article out of MediaPost, titled “Hearables Grow Up, Heading To 970 Million Devices," hearables are on track to sell 260 million devices worldwide, a trend that should continue to grow in the coming years.

“Hearables were formerly considered to be ear-worn devices that purely provided app-enabled audio adjustments,” writes MediaPost’s Chuck Martin. “That’s changing, as voice assistants and other forms of technology are being incorporated into more ear-worn devices, a market that is growing. The number of hearables in use is estimated to grow to more than 970 million by 2024, according to Juniper Research. That would be an increase of 270% over the 260 million estimated for this year.”

That growth, notes Martin, is largely due to the increased capabilities and adoption of sensor platforms and AI in wearable audio devices. As companies like Apple, SONY, Google and Samsung add capabilities, they not only provide users with new functionality––such as offering Siri or Alexa capabilities into a transportable devices––but also allows them to engage with and collect data from customers on the move. Yes, smartphones do this too. But with wearables, the step of removing a phone, pressing a button, then clicking through apps is removed. All you have to do is speak. Data of this kind is hugely valuable for companies, as it gives them a real-time feedback loop directly to their customers.

Video and Chatbot Communication See Boom During COVID-19

Hearables are hardly the only form of digital communication growing prior to the current pandemic. Video use was also increasing, but is now skyrocketing the pandemic, as Martin describes in a complimenting MediaPost article titled, “Consumers Stay Connected By More Video Conferencing During Pandemic.”

“During the past week, 20% of U.S. households used video and conference call platforms like Zoom and Slack, according to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA),” writes Martin. “That’s up 8% over the last three weeks. Household use of streaming video services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, dropped slightly (4%) to 52% of households over the holiday weekend, based on the CTA Tech Tracker, comprising regular surveys of 1,000 U.S. households, which monitors the purchase and use of tech during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As people familiarize themselves with video’s capabilities, more opportunities are emerging. Some companies, such as FoodCloud, which offers home cooked meals for delivery, are taking advantage. Recently, their CEO announced they’ll be offering live videos of meal preparation to give customers greater confidence that their meals as they’re being prepared safely and deliciously.

But to say that video and wearables outliers in the digital world in terms of increased use during the pandemic would simply be untrue. In fact, nearly every form of remote communication has seen a pandemic boost. And with great increases in device use comes great opportunity. Like FoodCloud, other companies, such as Bengaluru chatbot startup Yellow Messenger, which uses its AI chatbots to sell products directly to consumers on WhatsApp, are looking for creative ways to better engage with stay-at-home customers flocking to remote devices.

“Yellow Messenger announced a $20 million series B round led by the US fund of Lightspeed Venture Partners on Friday,” writes LiveMind reporter in the article ‘Brands use chatbots to find direct channel to consumers.’ “This makes it one of the best-funded startups in the space in the APAC region.... Even before the covid-19 crisis, there was a global trend of D2C (Direct to Consumer) brands coming up, points out Dev Khare of Lightspeed India Partners, who were early investors in Yellow Messenger. ‘The rise of Shopify in the last five years is a direct consequence of this trend.’ Shopify enables small B2C (business-to-consumer) companies to set up shop on the internet for consumers to buy directly. Yellow Messenger takes that a step further by enabling merchants to sell directly to consumers via a conversational AI interface on WhatsApp or a website.”

The pandemic may persist; it may not. Business trends may return to the way they once were; more than likely they won’t. Amid so much uncertainty, there’s one thing I do know for certain: the world is going digital faster than ever before. Companies need to adjust if they want to maintain communication channels with their customer base. And if they don’t, they may soon wake up to realize their customers have moved on.

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