You may recall IBM’s Watson as the supercomputer that soundly defeated "Jeopardy!" champs Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. But last week IBM announced that the data-crunching tech platform will now devote its outsized processing power to a more useful goal—helping holiday shoppers find great gifts for their loved ones.
By eavesdropping on thousands of online forums, blogs, social media posts, comment sections, ratings and reviews, Watson searches millions of “conversations” for patterns that reveal which products or brands people are gearing up to buy. The new IBM Watson Trend app—available for free download only at the Apple App Store—then displays the results of predictive analytics to forecast if those consumer preferences are likely to strengthen or fade.
Watson's Hot List
Here are a few of the items identified as popular picks. (Prices are approximate.)
- Star Wars Millennium Falcon Lego set ($150). With all the buzz surrounding the impending release of "The Force Awakens," Lego sets tied to the movie will be the “it” toy of the 2015 holiday season, says IBM. And that’s very likely to affect sales of the manufacturer’s Lego City and Friends sets, too. So shoppers should be prepared to pounce on Black Friday deals.
- Hello Barbie ($75). The privacy concerns related to the toy’s Internet connectivity have not deterred parents from placing it atop their gift-giving lists, says Watson. But many are planning to employ the parental control feature in the companion app to restrict conversation.
- Nikon DSLR cameras ($450 and up). Amateur photographers looking for better picture quality than a smartphone offers are making DSLR cameras—and specifically Nikon’s models—a popular choice this season, says Watson. (See our digital camera buying guide for more ideas.)
- Sony’s 42-megapixel Alpha 7RII mirrorless camera ($3,200). Expert photographers who can afford it seem to want this model, which includes Ultra HD 4K video.
- Gameband Minecraft ($79). The polyurethane wristband functions as a watch, but gamers covet it because it allows them to play Minecraft on any device with a USB port. At the end of each play session, the player’s progress gets backed up to a cloud-based server. If you lose the band, you order a replacement without losing the data.
- LeapFrog Imagicard PAW Patrol ($18). These interactive game cards, featuring six pups from Nick Jr.’s popular preschool cartoon series, help children with a LeapFrog pad develop math skills while earning Good Citizen badges.
At the moment, the Apple Watch, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, and TVs from Samsung and Sony are also trending on the Watson app’s consumer electronics list. There are individual lists for toys, and health and fitness products, too.
This year, for the first time, IBM predicts, shoppers will rely more heavily on mobile devices than desktop computers to find Black Friday deals. Over the five-day Thanksgiving break, the company expects mobile sales to rise by 34 percent compared to the same stretch in 2014.
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