Smartphone…Smart Tennis Racquet?

After watching this clip, are you as intrigued as I am? It’s amazing to see the increasing use of technology into everyday objects (including tennis racquets!) every single day. Already, it has been predicted that by 2025, most tennis players will be using these smart racquets in place of regular racquets.

For those who are unaware, the concept of linking machinery, other physical assets, and equipment (including sports equipment) with networked sensors and actuators to capture data and manage performance relates to the Internet of Things. The smart racquet, created by French-based company Babolat, which is an example of the Internet of Things records data on each shot you hit, and sends this information to your smartphone via Bluetooth.  The technology, which was developed over 10 years by more than 50 technicians, scientists and researchers, features built-in hardware and sensors in the racquet handle which measures the amount of racquet head speed used, whether the shot uses slice, topspin, or flat strokes, as well as where on the string bed the player has made contact with the ball.

Extracted from http://blogs-images.forbes.com/amadoudiallo/files/2014/09/babolatracket.jpg

The data is then transferred to the ‘Babolat Play’ app (on your smartphone or tablet) via Bluetooth where players and coaches can access and utilise the data to improve performance on the tennis court.  The app also takes on a social approach, where data and stats can be seen and viewed by other users in the Babolat Play community. The racquet, which is currently $449 at Tennis Warehouse Australia, houses 6 hours of battery life along with a memory capacity which holds 150 hours of tennis.

So now that we understand the gist of this technological breakthrough in tennis, what are the marketing implications? Who benefits, the player, the coach, Babolat? Let’s start with the player. Seeing the price may put off tennis players since its pretty much double the amount of a regular racquet, although the technology installed has the ability to change, improve, and evolve the game of a player, whether they’re a young up-and-comer or a professional competing in the ATP like Rafael Nadal himself.

Extracted from http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02910/rafa-esc_2910365a.jpg

If you’re wondering, no it won’t put tennis coaches out of business. As a matter of fact, it will make lessons with players more efficient and effective, aiding the coach in giving instruction to improve how a player hits each shot. Although the data collected from the racquet may significantly improve a player’s performance on its own, a coach’s instruction is still important in how to use this information and where to make changes in a given style of play. It also demonstrates (if the player needs proof) that the coach knows what he’s talking about.

Now let’s talk about Babolat and how they benefit from this amazing product.  The French-based company actually has access to all the data collected from each user’s saved hitting sessions. Why does that not surprise me? It means that Babolat has the information contained in each person’s profile including how often they play tennis, whether it’s a practice session or actual match, what sort of strokes they hit, how fast they hit their shots, and where they hit it on the string bed of the racquet. Sure, to some people, if not most people, this won’t be a big issue which is fine, although some may think it dives a bit too deep into the issue of privacy.

An example of data collected from using the smart racquet. Extracted from http://blogs-images.forbes.com/amadoudiallo/files/2014/09/babolatapp.png

What’s really interesting though is that if players purchase Babolat’s smart racquet, it’s almost certain they’ll grow attached to the product since it stores all the data of how you play. Therefore, the consumer will most likely not feel comfortable to use another smart racquet or another regular racquet for that matter since all their data is collected from the Babolat smart racquet. David Benady confirms this, in that creating direct digital relationships between consumers, and the product (plus the brand), makes it harder for consumers to switch to other products. He then goes on to explain that products like the smart racquet allow Babolat to build profiles of user behaviour which was previously unobtainable data, including their style of play, how often tennis is played, and insights into where the customer is at in their tennis journey (whether they are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player).

I’d love to hear what you have to say about the smart racquet! Would you use it? Or are you concerned about Babolat’s access to your data? If you ask me, I think it sounds like an amazing product which would greatly improve my game, although it would be nice if users were given the option to make data private rather than accessible for others to see (including Babolat). Having said that, I would absolutely love to give it a try!