The (Near) Future of Tech
We've collaborated with our friend Steve Keane - UX/UI Lead at pioneering tech start up Threads Styling to hear his views on The (Near) Future of Tech. Steve has more than 20 years experience in Digital Product Design and his insight on this topic is extremely eye opening. We hope you enjoy the read as much as we did!
When people write about the future of tech… they get a little carried away, talking about things that really will be available in 50 years rather than 5 or 10. For example - in the 60’s they said that we would have robots in the house doing all the housework. Not quite. But we do have less exciting versions - washing machines, dishwashers and hoovers, that save enormous amounts of time.
There’s a ton of articles online on the subject that all have the same story... automated cars, sensors in fridges and clothes, phones the size of a stamp embedded in you hand, robot doctors etc etc. None of this is new or interesting. And personally I wouldn’t buy shoes that were connected to the internet. As a UX Designer - for me what’s intriguing is the future of digital media, not necessarily the IoT or AI. That gadget in your pocket needs to be smarter and uber efficient. The (Near) future of tech is about using the things that we’ve already invented, (sometimes 50 years ago, Skype appears in the movie 2001, made in 1968) but... to their optimal utility. I’m more interested in the future of tech in regards to the internet, messaging, social media, commerce, payments and data.
Bots… the website killer
Websites are a lot of hard work, my favourite example is... booking a holiday. It’s many hours of stress, tough decisions without reliable information, timers ticking as deals expire. How did this happen? Travel agencies may be so last decade, but we used to have everything organised by someone else, and we were relatively unaware of the mark-up we were charged for the service. Then we had very cheap flights booked online, and then AirBnB and hotel websites. Obviously the idea being, you could save the commission, and be rid of the middle man. Now it’s the customer doing all the research, writing reviews to help others, and bla bla bla, it’s such a drag!
Now we have chat bots emerging and soon to be ubiquitous, (there are 100K chatbots on facebook messenger) hopefully they can do some of the work we’ve been doing. The prediction is that you would message a bot like AirBnB - “beach holiday 25th-30th for 4 people, accommodation budget £250 per night.” And it finds the fights, knows your home address, finds the nearest airport. “Do you mind early flights (that saves average of £50 per fight)” it asks... then it presents you with the best options and you either choose one or customise some variables and you’re done.
Chat bots will take over all call centres - this could be done with voice interfaces and automated voice systems. Access to voice search and voice data mining will soon create a considerable leap in AI understanding human interaction.
Mix this with Big Data - so the bot knows your past choices, you friends preferences, (no more posting on facebook - “anyone been to Paris?”)... the system would already have access to this information.
Weirdly we can’t even expect basic digital usage in obvious places. In a hotel, surely we could text the reception for food and drinks orders. Some of this already exists in China in shops and services with WeChat. It includes services ranging from, taxis, hotels, flights, trains, movie tickets, bike share, to household utilities, gas, electricity bills etc. “We sat down at a restaurant, scanned a QR code on the table, placed my order on my phone, paid via WeChat and my order arrived a few minutes later.(https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/within-two-weeks-arriving-china-i-set-up-wechat-søren-østergaard-李思远) The QR code makes filling out a form with you bank details obsolete - that’s the game changer, in the west it’s fiddly and time-consuming using badly designed websites. Another advantage for the service provider is the post service opportunities and marketing. They collect relevant data on the customer, who automatically follows the vendor - they then can send social posts and promotions to the customer. Payments are linked to social media... another game changer. https://www.thewechatagency.com/why-wechat-pay-is-a-game-changer-for-brands-in-china/
“The holy grail of usability is to build an interface that requires zero interaction cost: being able to fulfill users’ needs without having them do anything. While interface design is still far from reading people’s minds, intelligent assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are one step in that direction.” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/intelligent-assistant-usability/?lm=wechat-integrated-ux&pt=article
People forget that UI with a touch screen can be an enjoyable experience, it can be fun and satisfying. So I’m not holding out for a complete revolution in voice interface anytime soon, but it’s going to have some amazing benefits. VO can be time consuming and socially awkward - would you want siri to read out all your notifications, it’s it quicker to scan them visually.
Less that optimal: (Flawed technology)
Siri suggests an alarm as it’s found something in my calendar, but I’ve already set an alarm for this. Then I get a notification to rate the Uber driver - but I’ve already done that. There seems to be little knowledge of what I’ve done recently, and it’s beyond any need for syncing between devices there, this is on the same phone, one minute ago. There’s little basic intelligence. And sometimes it feels like it’s a long way off. Youtube recommends videos that are actually on my playlist already. Really!
It turns out Facebook’s “smart” algorithm which proposes to give us the best choices for our news feed actually is built to give us the most outrageous and extreme version of events. It keeps us glued to the page, for more advertising views. A total disaster, and recently easily manipulated by Russian bots. A real existential concern.
Some technology seems to have regressed by becoming essential. Video calls used to be infrequent but seemed to work pretty well. But now that they are relied upon, for remote working, we see how unreliable they really are. As UX designer it’s clear that with Skype or Slack, the UX is part of the problem, it seems to confuse smart people who are regular users, but the remarkable point is... the technology isn’t ready, often it’s a broken experience.
At the moment Spotify can use algorithms to choose music you might like, but it seems limited as really it’s based on the playlist you’ve just been listening to and it mostly plays tracks that are on the other playlist plus some that are already overplayed. So that’s the reality - not impressive.
With Youtube, try leaving the autoplay on for an hour or two, you may find the results shocking. Much like facebook, the algorithm looks to be in favour of content that drives engagement, which Silicon Valley code for “outrage”. Unfortunate, but extreme views seem to be the currency that drives the internet.
Spotify and Youtube are still in Discovery mode? Really? - meaning YOU have to do the discovering! In the future it will have some intelligence - it will know what time of day, day of the week it is (some Friday music?) and maybe “think” about how long it is since you played some classical music. Maybe it’s Summer. It should mix in some intelligent guesses for music you’ve not listened to and newly released tracks, and something trending. For example, late August, Saturday night at 1am you can imagine what it would ideally play. Then of course we’re waiting for the fully intelligent and well educated algorithm / AI network, that should be better than the best DJ as it would be highly personalised.
For example, google assistant and Siri - will predict behavioural patterns and suggest options. It’s all about the system knowing you and you not having to input any data, as it will already have your data, plus everyone else’s data. Imagine a ‘customers also bought” but on overdrive, it could be automatically ordering items for you, based on your past behaviour, or other people’s behaviour, be connected to you bank account, be aware of the available cash, and your normal spend rate. It could even aware of your loan options. If that sounds extreme it could certainly order things you use regularly before you run out. Alternatively you just review the options after some considerable AI sourcing, and “ok” the ones you want to purchase, like a digital-personal-shopper.
“going forward…” predictions
Future of apps and websites
The major trend is messaging... there’s even talk of large corporations (even slow and old fashioned ones) using Messaging platforms to communicate with customers, rather than a website. Websites and apps, once heralded as innovative multimedia or “fully” interactive, now look passive - often a retail website is just a long boring grid of items for sale, no interaction, no personality, no brand values coming through. Also there’s a trend towards WeChat, or similar, where one big app (probably google) does everything. Another possibility is that web for mobile gets a makeover, becoming a much more fluent experience.
Future of messaging
Expect lots of bots, much less typing and loads of stickers. Sending snaps and stories will become fully adopted.
Future of social media -
Social media has a few major problems it hasn’t solved and they will be the final blow for “the interconnected world” - one is privacy and another is fake content. Social media will become more private. People have tired of idealised and dishonest content on instagram and abuse on twitter. The whole social media thing could lose its novelty, becoming more mainstream - as younger generation moves to group messaging, and... as the older generation move in, it’ll end up with content like daytime television.
Future of retail
First retail moved online and off the high street, next it will move to chat bots, big data and personal data - customised experience involving a lot of automation from brands but it will feel personal to the customer. (Further reading - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/tips-for-the-future/future-of-retail/]. And a vision of social commerce here - https://wp.nyu.edu/dispatch/2018/04/13/could-social-commerce-be-the-future-of-online-business/
I’d predict some businesses using gamification in new ways… using interfaces to simplify some processes. I keep hearing about startups in Fintech, where the user plays a visual game without full knowledge of the trade but using other metrics, that are more lifestyle related and more relatable.
For the purposes of this article:
Stage 1 - Conception, early adopters, not fully functional - such as VR
Stage 2 - Full adoption, but well below optimal utility - such as Youtube and Facebook
Stage 3 - Maximised utility - (not yet realised, but closest examples would be) Amazon and Netflix - if the suggestions where levelled up. And WhatsApp with the addition of a clever message bot to help you reply with very little typing.
Long form content - breaks grip of increasingly broken, clickbait mainstream news platforms
Some good news is long form (audio or youtube podcasts) are now very accessible and popular due to mobile technology - the content, which can be two hours long would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The ability to do other things while listening, like travelling or working is key. The content is easily picked-up on the next commute. In fact the content could be, even longer and it would still work. Meanwhile traditional journalism has been transformed by the availability of free content on the internet. They have turned to more salacious and clickbait style articles, which lessens their credibility. By comparison the TV news now looks extremely bound by a “sound bite” style, where a complex subject gets no more than 2 minutes, and the expert interviewed even less. Not harmonious for understanding any topic.
The internet was supposed to be a canonical library containing unabridged and free information and connect all humans on the planet (in a beneficial way) and it’s got maybe half way, certainly less than expected, and it’s come with downsides. So... do I predict a Near Future less perfect, yes but infinitely more useful if you can limit the hyperbole.