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By Tom Lawrie-Fussey
Zero interface - it sounds a little nebulous, but what if a product and service really could be operated from day one with no instructions? Imagine a world where the user doesn’t need to adapt how they work to how it works, and the user doesn’t have to load up or consciously control anything.
The idea of zero interfaces and their application to wearable technology is already close to reality. The idea is that a graphical or physical user interface is not required because the user can interact in other ways or even not know that they are sending data. These zero interfaces include ideas like predictive systems, exo brains, gesture recognition and transferred thought.
If that lot sounds like science fiction, do bear in mind that gesture recognition is already very much with us. Consider Microsoft’s Kinect device and the number of new applications people have devised from what started life as a new way to interact with a computer game.
Predictive systems are intended to track behaviour and then offer a more tailored or customised choice to a consumer or even to speed up their service by preparing what they want before they order. Novel new ways of identifying people is an obvious way to unlock this potential. Facial recognition worries most of us, but what about your vehicle number plate? Or the proximity of your phone to a retailer? In some cases it is not the technology that is the limiting factor, but people’s acceptance of it. Nail the user experience however, and you will get a queue of consumers lining up wanting your service, with most of them not really caring what you’re doing in the background to give them their immediate service enhancement.
Exo brains take this still further, by getting rather good at knowing you. Knowing your habits, predicting what you’re about to do. It’s scary, you could argue it’s dangerous, but it’s also inevitable, as with the ever increasing complexities of life, it is time that we typically value the most. If technology can silently operate in the background and make our lives easier, and give us time back, we will adopt it. No more queuing for coffee, the Apple iBeacon, or the Google eddystone beacon mounted outside the doorway of your local coffee shop detects you approaching, and informs the retailer accordingly. Your usual cuppa is ready by the time you reach the till, where payment is taken automatically from your smart-wearable contactless payment garment without you needing to get wallet or phone out of your pocket.
By making our local ecosystem of electronic gadgets contextually aware, the opportunity for them to help us with zero-interface predictive behaviour is vast. Make the interaction seamless, and it begins to feel like magic. Nest founder Tony Fadell doesn’t talk about Internet of Things; he talks about making a “conscious home”. Technology allows devices to pre-emptively act, and in doing so takes a giant leap towards interacting with us in a way that feels very human. A great example of this technology development is Disney’s latest piece of research that involves a smart-watch that can sense electromagnetic signals. The prototype can sense what the user is touching, be it a bike, drill, toothbrush or even door-handle. Knowledge of this local context allows the system to provide real-time feedback to the user, including immediate navigation advice as you mount your bike, step-by-step DIY instructions as you pick up a tool, a simple count-down timer whilst cleaning your teeth, or even imminent diary reminders as you enter the office.
When our own belongings begin to behave like they genuinely know us, and want to help us, we naturally respond favourably to them. We love our smartphone because it’s a portal to so much of our connected lives. It feels like an extension of us, with a degree of personalisation that we’ve already achieved with our unique combination of Apps. Contextual awareness will take this to another level. Your stuff will start acting like an extension of you, not just a personalisation platform.
This relentless push towards saving us time and hassle already goes beyond simply informing us of a status, it is starting to extend to automated actions. Already available is the August Smart Lock front door that opens as you walk towards it. Yale, home security specialists, is working on this technology too, with their Linus product that allows configurable keypad entry. Gimmick? Possibly, but consider its potential. These systems can tell you that your daughter isn’t home when she should be. You are able to select who (and when) people can enter your house. In the future the systems will know enough about you to know your trusted friends/companies. You come home to find a large parcel sitting safely in your hallway, your house secure. Scary? Still a gimmick? Or a new hassle-free way to regain vital time in a hectic lifestyle?
Where the convenience win outweighs the usual privacy concerns, adoption is usually inevitable. Audi are at it too; they’re currently trialling a system in Munich that allows your Amazon order to be placed straight into the boot of your car without you even being there. An access code is generated for a 1-time use, with the DHL courier only able to access the boot itself, within a prescribed time window. It’s another example of the constant battle between convenience win versus privacy/security fear. The successful interface solutions of the future will be those that get the seamless magic nailed, and make our privacy fears melt away.
Zero interface isn’t a myth, it’s already here, it’s just rather hard for most of us to spot it. And that is exactly the point - we’ve probably already adopted it without worrying about the technology or the consequences. It’s convenient and it saves us time and hassle. When done brilliantly it also makes a lot of money as good user interface equals good business. Wearable technologies currently on the market place are very much in their infancy; they can be clumsy, unreliable and require a high level of active participation from the user which limits their ability to make our lives more efficient. The products that will truly transform this field will answer essential basic human needs with minimal input, whether this is improving the safety of our loved ones (elderly or young), improving our health through early diagnosis or even enabling us to improve our golf-swing!
The core product design challenges are to understand where the technology is truly useful and then enhance how we engage with the devices. We know that to start with the device and the technology prior to scoping out how we integrate these with the user isn’t the way to achieve the best outcome. Instead we need to start with the enhancement in user experience that is required, and then seek out (and potentially invent!) the new technology needed to provide this.
For help with your next customer interface, be it zero or just good-old button-pressing brilliant, do please get in touch. We have a team of UX specialist experts who work with our user researchers, designers and software experts, who are ready to develop the next interface paradigm for you and your customers.
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