LEVELS OF LUXURY
Luxury lifestyle. We've all got it haven't we? I'm making assumptions here, but if you are reading this on a desktop at work, tablet at home or mobile wherever, then the chances are your day-to-day living isn't a hand to mouth existence.
So whilst you might not be dancing atop great ziggurats formed from crisp fifty pound notes, you and I are probably in the top 20% of the world's population by income; a luxurious place to start.
Looking at current and upcoming trends within tech is part of what we do and recently we've been noticing a trend toward ever increasing levels of luxury. Sort of high-end high-tech. One aspect of this trend, is tech companies producing ever more premium versions of their products. From one-offs in the console market (you can get a solid gold Xbox for £13k) to the premium mobile phone makers Vertu, whose signature diamond handset starts at £55k and it doesn't even have a touchscreen.
Could Apple be a new threat to established uber luxury brands? Some might say Apple are one of the premium luxury brands. Their product line is limited and they charge more than competitors for comparable tech specs (I'm sure Apple would counter that they have affordable entry level products aimed at everyone.) However at their recent Apple watch launch they seemed to have upped the ante with a range that might be aimed at another, higher tier of customer (what might be called the 'ultra high-net-worth individual'). Rather than wait for third parties to add bling to their tech (see $48million dollar iPhone 6) they are bringing their own bling in the form of solid gold watches.
There has been speculation that this is a move to muscle in on the luxury watch market, but whatever the strategy behind it, the cost of the raw materials alone will mean that the gold version of the watch will retail for at least $5,000, with customisation maybe closer to $10,000. Given the round the block queues for the upgrade to a new iPhone that was the iPhone 6, chances are the queue to hand over even larger sums of money might be larger still.
So before we speculate too much on what might happen with extravagant bangles on the wrists of the rich and famous, lets look at what else is happening in luxury tech and the market in general. If there's anyone that knows the luxury market, it's Tyler Brûlé. He coined the phrase “Uber Premium" back in 2006 and has had his finger on that pulse ever since.
Essential components of an uber-premium brand include sourcing the rarest raw materials, reducing the number of items made, and what he calls "single-door availability". "Shut down all the stores and just have one amazing space on Madison Avenue," he preaches. "We don't care if you're in Tokyo. You're going to have to buy that Japan Airlines flight if you want to purchase".
Uber Premium is everything that is truly out of reach for the vast majority of consumers, not just financially, but also by not being invited. Uber Premium tech usually raises its head in over-the-top superyachts or monstrous motor homes.
More than bling things
Hopefully its not all about the same old tech with a fancy wrapper, having an appetite for increasing innovation can move ideas forward and ultimately lead to mass adoption. Look at the smart home technology market. Not that long ago, having a keypad to control lights in all your rooms was Cribs level living, but now you can control your lights, tv and thermostat easily from your phone. The companies that now make software for a mass audience saw what worked and found ways to deliver them to a mass audience.
The good thing about the Uber Premium crowd is that they make for a great testbed for technology, road testing experimental gadgets and software to see how useful it is. As in fashion, Uber Premium is the haute couture of tech. So what aspects of current Uber Premium tech might be mass market in the next 4-5 years? What are the things that stick around to get improved?;
Maybe privacy is one of these things? Nothing says exclusivity like exclusion. Forget mass appeal social networks like Facebook. What about invite only networks like Ello? Not this exactly, but what about a more curated, personal and gated digital community, a community swapping private conversations and connections within its walls and offering glimpses of unattainable events by sharing images with lesser public networks? Is the members club approach to social networking on the horizon or an online Bilderberg version of Linkedin?
Can these services scale? Vertu currently offer a concierge service to it's handset owners that promises 24-hour worldwide assistance, recommendations and priority bookings. What if they were to offer this service to Apple owners? A concierge app on the Apple Watch? An expensive subscription service to go with the solid gold option? Although the more people using it, the less exclusive it becomes, perhaps exclusivity doesn't scale .
So what next for this hard to please audience? Maybe more personalisation and one off experiences? An exclusive personal experience can provide hard-to-imitate uniqueness in ways physical (and uniform) products can't.
What about having your own memory room? Films and photographs of people and places are projected across the walls in front of you.
Or a personal soundscape that reacts to your mood? Tailored and theatrical are two of the things that technology can do really well. The possibilities on offer by digital are only limited by the ambitions of the client.