Jun 30, 2015

Heads Up

How IoT will make smartphones obsolete

A version of this post was originally posted on Innovation Labs by AVG site.

Universal suffering

My Friends! Raise your eyes from your smartphones and behold Reality! Otherwise, Reality—perhaps in the form of a truck—might clip you as you step off the curb and land you on a hospital operating table, a slab of meat with a busted screen.

Sooner or later, Reality will catch up with smartphones and reveal their fundamental faults. I’m betting it will be sooner.

Back when the first iPhone was introduced, I was designing user interfaces for TV and home-cinema remotes. Conventional wisdom at the time held that the Holy Grail of remotes was the universal remote control—a single device to replace all the other remotes littering your coffee table. It still sounds kind of appealing.

But when the research team looked at how universal remotes were actually used by humans in the wild (i.e., actual users in their actual living rooms), we found they didn’t deliver. Single-device remotes were simply better, because they didn’t distract from your movie.

You can pick up a dedicated DVD remote and press the subtitle button almost without thinking. In contrast, universal remotes tear your attention away from the screen. If you need subtitles for the latest action flick out of Hong Kong, you must first navigate to “disc mode” and then find whatever button controls the subtitles. In the process, you’ve probably missed the $10 million fight scene all your friends will be talking about tomorrow.

Based on these observations, the research team established a design rule for home-cinema user interfaces: people should be able to control the system without looking down at the remote control. This became known as the Heads Up rule.

Heads Up is a versatile design principle. Whether designed for people watching a car chase, or for people actually in a car chase, your product will be better if it helps people stay immersed in the action.

Forward-looking statements

These days, as part of the team at AVG Innovation Labs talking to early adopters of the Internet of Things (IoT), I’ve started to see similarities between smartphones and universal remote controls. The smartphone is a Heads Down device, like the universal remote. It disengages you from the reality around you.

The most exciting advances in consumer technology today promise to pull our noses out of our smartphones and point them back at reality. Apple Watch’s glances and taptic engine feed us information discretely, without interrupting our activity. Like operating room nurses handing the surgeon a scalpel, Google Now and Apple’s Proactive update to Siri give us exactly what we need, when we need it.

In my opinion, this move away from the virtual world of small screens back toward unmediated reality is a good thing because, as titillating as virtual pastimes can be, the buck will always stop in Reality. Heads Down experiences—like universal remotes, digital video recorders, and Morse code—are a transitional blip in the history of technology, merely tiding us over until less clumsy alternatives come along. In my opinion, the Heads Down experience of the smartphone has as much chance of being around in 5 years as USB drives.

Sensors and simplicity

IoT promises a giant stride forward in Heads Up computing. If you took the sensors and actuators out of your phone, multiplied and embedded them in the world around you, and put the processing and machine-learning power into the cloud, you would have… the Internet of Things. Instead of having one universal device—your smartphone—controlling your environment, you would have simple controls placed where you need them, available when you need them.

In the Heads Up world of IoT, you will control sophisticated systems while staying immersed in your current activity; for example, getting those fine steaks out of the kitchen fridge and onto the backyard barbecue. A right-twist on the doorknob as you step into the backyard with the steaks tells your house to leave the front door unlocked, because you told your guests to come straight through; no need to look at your phone. Based on the size and weight of your steaks, the barbecue chirps when it’s time to flip them over; again, no need to look away from what you’re doing.

The principle of Heads Up is a solid user interface design guideline. By extrapolation, it can also give us insight into the future of technology. In fact, Heads Up is good advice in most circumstances.

You left your phone in the kitchen. The slabs of meat received your full attention, and are now barbecued to perfection. “Siri. …Scalpel!”

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If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

May 14, 2015

Business Ballistics

Culture does not eat strategy for breakfast

Maybe someone has quoted Peter Drucker to you:
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
It's pithy, but I don't like the jungle imagery. I like to think about business savagery in terms of war and ballistics.

Ballistics (from Greek βάλλειν ballein "to throw")

the science of mechanics that deals with the launching, flight, behavior, and effects of projectiles, especially bullets, gravity bombs, rockets, or the like; the science or art of designing and accelerating projectiles so as to achieve a desired performance. wikipedia

In the #BusinessBallistics scheme of things:
  • Culture is Weight
  • Strategy is Direction
  • Tactics is Speed
Culture without Strategy is the same as a weighty projectile without direction; it's a lot of potential going nowhere.

Strategy without Tactics is the same as Direction without Speed. You may be pointed in the right direction, but you'll never reach your goal.

Tactics without Strategy is the same as Speed without Direction. You're as likely to shoot yourself in the foot as hit your target.

Tactics and Strategy without Culture is the same as Direction and Speed without Weight. You may hit your target, but with no impact.

Drucker's aphorism implies that Culture is more important than Strategy. #BusinessBallistics suggests a good response would be:

Strategy is the breakfast of champions.

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If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

Apr 7, 2015

Brand Aid

The Jobs-To-Be-Done of a Brand

In this digital age, brands will continue to perform their traditional jobs-to-be-done, i.e.:

  • Functional: Help people find satisfying products/services without having to understand the specifics and details of the product/service. (I.e., buy a jacket with confidence that it is fashionable and of a certain quality).
  • Social: Signify to other people one’s own taste.
  • Emotional: Reassure the purchaser that they have made a good decision.
The functional job is most affected by technology, which allows brands to play a broader role as curator, helping consumers discover new products. In effect, doing the research for them.

New Values

“Authentic” is the emerging counterbalance to “virtual” products, services, and experiences. Brands should strive for Authenticity.

  • Authenticity means genuineness, credibility, and integrity of a proposition. Cues commonly used to ascertain authenticity are:
    • Immediacy in time: like watching a football match live is more authentic than watching an hour delayed.
    • Immediacy in place: like watching a football match in the stadium is more authentic than watching on TV.
    • Provenance: like a work of Art is more valuable if its ownership can be traced back to its creation.
    • Authority: recommendation of an acknowledged expert
    • Shared Experience: in the way that a shared sunset is more “real” than one experienced alone. (…50,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong)
If I were a brand, I would be using technology to connect users to propositions along these dimensions.

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    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.