“No touching!” – new technology redesigns user experience demands

Smartphones are a dead product category. We’re on the verge of killing it, but don’t poke the body.

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Condemning smartphones to the past sounds like something only a madman would do. In 2016, 1.5 billion smartphones were sold[1] – a mind-boggling number considering our planets hosts ‘only’ 7 billion people. How can such a popular device ever go out of fashion? Ask Kodak’s Polaroid, ask vinyl, tapes and CD’s, ask Blockbuster videos. All of these products (and product categories) got replaced by something that offered a far better User Experience – the one thing you truly need to convince customers to switch en masse from one product or service to another.

And let’s face it – the user experience of a smartphone is far from ideal (if only because of the bad effect on your eyes). Even if we collectively bought 1.5 billion of them last year, it’s something we innately know. And once we experience something better, something more frictionless and smooth, we will wonder how we ever made do with smartphones. Unlocking the diamond standard in user experience – a truly frictionless human-machine interaction – is what brings about product and service disruption.

 Think about your current phone – it is an awkwardly-fitting, pocket bulging device that constantly requires you to pull it out of your pocket, when you risk dropping it and cracking that gorgeous but not-so-cheap screen. It is most likely dirtier than your toilet bowl[2], which isn’t so strange, considering you’ve probably never washed your phone. And controlling your device may feel smooth now – we’ve all mastered the art of hyper speed typing aided by autocorrect and smart prediction keyboards - but image controlling your phone purely by voice. Smoothly.

 Yes, I know voice assistants are still clunky. And yes, I know that we still love our screens dearly. But as the famous Ford quote goes, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” With more computing power and more focus (especially by tech companies) on the development of chatbots, voice recognition and even pure sci-fi stuff like brainwave communication (Neuralink[3], funded by Elon Musk, and Facebook[4] are working on it), it is a matter of time before touch control will be … excuse the pun … out of touch with our demands as customers.

 Chatbots are getting better every day. What this means in essence, is that we are getting more used to controlling our devices through conversation, rather than touch. Once chatbots are able to really understand us – and we are used to being understood – the leap from written conversations to spoken word conversations with our devices is a small one. Once we have achieved that plateau, organizations like Neuralink and Facebook are pushing to eliminate even that bit of friction called speech, allowing us to control our devices just by thinking. Crazy talk? We will see.

How to go about it?

Why should you care? For one, because these developments are mind-bogglingly exciting. And because your customers will demand it, sooner or later. Our expectations continue to rise, and only the diamond standard in user experience will drive mass adoption of a product. You need mass adoption because it means data, and data allows you to optimize your offering and increase both revenue and profit. And we all know, profit means eternal glory – or at least, temporary shareholder approval. 

We did a recent experiment with teens in the age from 16 till 18. When asked about privacy, they were surprisingly aware of what data they gave away and what they did not want into the hands of companies. Actually just a little that they wanted to give away. But when we asked which services they would desire from a voice controlled virtual assistant, their privacy went out the door!

So think critically, where does your organization currently stand in terms of user experience?  How do you prepare for these developments? Frame them from a diamond standard user experience point of view. Where lies the friction in your current user experience? What technology can help alleviate the pain? Who are the visionaries in your organization that can bring about these changes? Who are the experimental entrepreneurs that can think outside the box? Once the “input-side” of the equation changes, there will be repercussions for the “output-side” of your product. Put differently – if your smartphone no longer needs a touchscreen for input-purposes, will it still need a screen for output-purposes? What it then will become, is difficult to predict. I’m putting my money on the smartphone becoming some form of wearable. Most wearables are still clunky, but that will change. Once we ditch the screen, we can also ditch the mega-batteries, paving the way for something much smaller with similar hardware capabilities. That allows many different form-factors, allowing designers to truly re-define the product and how we interact with it. Perhaps smartphones will be redesigned into small cloud-connected “thin client” mini-beamers? Or a Google Glass type of product, mounted on our heads? New input-formats will revolutionize the product as a whole.

 Your smartphone is dead, because it will no longer be recognizable as a smartphone.

[1] http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3609817

[2]https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/03/23/your-iphones-dirtier-than-toilet-and-so-these-other-everyday-items/99530570/

[3] https://www.neuralink.com/

[4] https://www.businessinsider.nl/facebooks-building-8-working-on-brain-computer-communication-platform-2017-1/?international=true&r=US

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