Vodafone Smart Tech’s Tom Guy on the Internet of Things
As more and more people want smart tech to offer simpler solutions to everyday problems, Vodafone Smart Tech is here to stay
Tom Guy is chief product officer at Vodafone Smart Tech. An experienced hand in the culture of start-ups, Guy has brought a new dynamism to the company’s newly established product division, a 50-person team that has already made its mark with products like the Curve smart GPS tracker and Curve Bike light & GPS tracker. In particular, Guy has managed to parlay the experience he garnered from being one of the founding members of Hive, and working closely alongside consultants like Yves Béhar, into Vodafone’s new venture. ‘Vodafone realised the opportunities that were coming out of the Internet of Things and they wanted to connect people,’ Guy explains, ‘Our challenge is to bring a new level of attention to the products. At Hive we were obsessed with quality and customer experience and that’s exactly what we’re doing here. It’s not about technology for technology’s sake.’
Guy admits that the Internet of Things hasn’t always been easy to understand. ‘The customer expectation has sometimes been higher than what the tech provides,’ he says, giving the example of a smart light bulb that requires someone to get out their phone and open an app just to turn a light on. ‘Vodafone had a roadmap of projects but also some clear customer pain points,’ he continues, ‘I had to ask, what problems are we trying to solve? What is the magic moment we want to create? You can’t simply use new products just to create that ‘wow moment’.’
As well as the Curve range, Smart Tech systems also include the Neo, a Disney-infused smartwatch for children that takes youthful curiosity and aptitude for technology and turns it into a timepiece, calendar and camera that’s sprinkled with favourite characters, as well as being an easy way for parents to stay in touch. Guy worked once more with Béhar on this project, and he implies that future tech from Vodafone might take some of Neo’s innovations and apply them to different sectors.
Right now, however, it’s all about Curve. ‘The Curve Bike tracker solves multiple problems,’ he explains, ‘I want someone to know if something goes wrong, I want to be seen, so having a brake light powered by an accelerometer makes sense. Plus there’s a simple anti-theft alarm functionality. I’m also very proud of the simple quarter turn motion you make to turn it on and off.’ Guy is very much a details man. ‘One of the beautiful things about manufacturing this stuff is all the things the customer never even gets to see – they are just as important to us,’ he explains, ‘it’s the industrial processes as well as the digital ones, from working with foam board to 3D printing, which has revolutionised design. It was incredibly useful to shape the angles and size of a product like Neo, for example.’
Like all design-driven departments, Vodafone’s Smart Tech studio is awash with prototypes and betas. ‘We usually run beta tests within the company first, then open it up to customers, especially when it’s a product that’s designed to work within the home,’ Guy says, ‘I realised how many cyclists we had working for us when we asked for volunteers for the Curve Bike tracker trial. But it was hard work for them as they had to go on long bike rides to test the durability of the product.’
Coming from Vodafone, best known for its mobile network, Guy has a customer base that is used to regular upgrades. ‘There’s a perception that the product is done the day you buy it, but these days the release date is actually the start date for us. Maybe once a quarter we’ll drop new upgrades and features.’ He also acknowledges that understanding the constantly evolving technology market is extremely important. ‘We’ve worked with FuseProject and Fuel and I’m always inspired by seeing how designers create certain products, even in fields that are nothing to do with your own,’ he says, ‘I also especially miss CES at the moment – it was good to explore how people used different materials, plastics, metals and especially fabrics.’ His own design philosophy is one of effortless simplicity, with a soft tactility to Curve, the smart GPS tracker and Curve Bike tracker that is familiar and futuristic at the same time.
Guy believes that the Vodafone Smart Tech range has a way to go. ‘The technology can be applied to many different things because of its simplicity,’ he says, ‘we always talk about making things as effortless as possible so we’re always looking to make those expansions easy for people. Might there something for the scooter market, or the health sphere, for example?’ Vodafone Smart Tech is here to stay as more and more people want smart tech to offer simpler solutions to everyday problems, driven by effectiveness, efficiency and trust. ‘At Vodafone, we connect people in and out of the home, so we provide experiences for a lot of people,’ Guy says, ‘and a big part of what we do is help articulate a solution to a problem from a customer point of view. Our response – the product – is not just about a physical object, but the emotions that object resolves or creates.’ §
Listen to Found: Objects With Meaning, the new podcast series from Wallpaper* in collaboration with Vodafone Smart Tech. Featuring six conversations with creatives, the podcast is about the creative and emotional force of the objects that we have and the ones that we’ve lost.