The family dinner has devolved into a heated discussion on who starred in a movie ten years ago? Someone shouts at Alexa, someone else asks Siri in a loud voice, someone else types in a query, quietly, on their smartphone, while another person whispers conspicuously into their smartwatch. The race for the answer is on. Meanwhile Uncle Phil is on his tablet cueing up the movie for later. Mom remembers the TV series spin-off and orders it on a streaming service. Cousin Fred wants to read the biography on the lead actor and goes on his mobile to order the book for pickup the next day. Dad thinks everyone is getting worked up, so he picks up his smartphone and changes the light level on the dining room lights and changes the music up on the smart speakers to soft jazz. Mom thinks it’s a great a movie and goes onto a streaming service to flag it to watch later tonight. Josephine, the oldest sister, cues it up for the kids to watch on the long drive home in the car. Her daughter Mary doesn’t want to watch and would rather play a game, so she sets that up on her smartphone for the drive.

In just a few moments, a whole group of people have used voice, touch and text means to validate facts, order products, make a temporal jump and set about future actions. Multiple user interfaces and experiences have taken place simultaneously. Some people knew what was happening, others didn’t. Each interacted with a device differently.

The pundits would argue that voice is the future, while others go for gestures and some think text will fade away into nothingness. None are true, all are right.

The reality is, user experiences will not be based on the device so much as they be based on the context of the situation. It is already the case and will be so for some time yet. Take voice interfaces as an example…it’s thanksgiving dinner, the whole family is eating and reminiscing and you remember you need to order something. Are you going to talk into your smartphone or smartwatch to set a reminder? Probably not. Unless you want to either brag about the fact you have a smartwatch. More likely, you will quietly enter the reminder/task into your smartphone and slip it surreptitiously back in your pocket/purse.

The future of the user experience is very much contextual. In some cases, voice is both optimal and socially acceptable, in other cases, it is not. Sometimes, text entry will be better. Or manipulation of images/video via touch. Gestures too, will have their time and place. Perhaps someday, when we wear smartglasses it will be about a nod or a shake of the head to do something. Or maybe we will subvocalize to a device looped behind our ear?

The future of the user experience into the next couple of decades will be about multiple UI/UX operations. They will vary based on social activity, time of day, location, device, activity and desired outcome. Digital technologies that bridge the digital/physical world will eventually become enabled to understand time/place/activity situations and will adjust accordingly. None of them do that right now. On the one hand, we will need to be comfortable with a device or the tech company we use (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon etc.) knowing an awful lot about us and the convenience of taking an action that we know will result in a desired outcome.

To get to a time/place where the keyboard, whether it is physical or touch-based, becomes unnecessary is quite a long way off. Can you write a book or blog post entirely in your brain and edit it, select images to accompany it or video also entirely in your brain? That would be cool, but we are a very, very long way off…as in decades. They key being that we will have to train our brains to work in ways that conform to the constraints of the technology or make technology that adapts to the way our brains work…and all brains work differently.

So for the next while, we will be using a mix of touch, voice and gesture to interact and experience with various services and technologies. Companies that can work across these contextual experiences will do very well. Some companies can do very well within one context, but the big money will rest on being able to adapt across multiple experiences by using Artificial Intelligence tools such as Machine Learning to be able to adapt on the fly.

Check out our article on how office gossip works in the Digital Age!

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