Following on from the previous assessment of the Gartner hype cycle technologies falling under the AI everywhere banner, it’s time to look at the second batch of trends - “Transparently Immersive Experiences”. This category has a number of distinct technologies shoehorned under it - AR / VR, Connected homes and Nanotube electronics, not to mention Brain-Computer Interfaces, 4D printing and more.
Let’s take another quick glance at the hype cycle to see where these technologies sit:
It’s a solid eight years since the UX community coined the phrase “the best interface is no interface”, and it's taking a while for reality to catch up with the sentiment. While technology continues to get cheaper and lighter, we’re still a fair distance from being able to wear something comfortably for any length of time. But therein lies an interesting thought…as with Machine Learning in last week’s post, we have to ask; what constitutes success? Widespread, mainstream appeal of VR / AR is a long way off (read this BBC audience research if you’re in any doubt), but there’s still high potential for the technology to be very successful in narrow use cases in the near term. For example, we’re excited about Google Glass Enterprise Edition - you wouldn’t want to be the glasshole wearing one in a bar, but the benefits are obvious for someone needing to do their job hands-free, such as a surgeon, a mechanic or a field services worker - especially as it's much lighter than, say, an Oculus Rift VR headset (36 grams vs 470 grams). And on the software side, Apple's release of ARKit in iOS11 firmly marks Apple's intention in the Augmented Reality market, and some of the work developers have produced to date is nothing short of amazing.
Brain Computer interfaces and Human Augmentation are other matters entirely. If you’ve read Tim Urban’s fascinating Neuralink blog post, you’ll know that the 10+ year timeline for BCI is probably fair. That hasn’t stopped our company founder & CEO Cameron Barrie giving it a good go though.
Connected homes and Virtual Assistants are another matter. Gartner has both those technologies at the "Peak of Inflated Expectations", with the plateau being 5-10 years out. I'd like to challenge that - surely Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Apple's HomePod devices qualify, and will be firmly in the mainstream if not this Christmas than next year?
My family has 13 devices connected to our wi-fi, but the Google Home device is the only one in the home automation category. When a couple of lightbulbs sets you back $139 and don't solve a real problem (turning on a light switch is hard because..?) then I would tend to agree it's a way off. But with devices such as Wemo mini smart plugs lowering the cost of entry, it's a great time for the early adopters.
What's really interesting is that voice assistants will be handing over a lot more power and control to the user and the intermediaries. Let's say for example that you operate an airline. Right now you would market your product through a sophisticated marketing mix of paid, earned and owned media. But how on earth do you ensure that Google Voice sends business your way when asked about flights to London? A verbal answer isn't 'scannable' in the same way a list of results is - the expectation is that the response will be more tailored and human. We're expecting answers rather than a list of places where answers might be found. What's more, everyone in the advertising ecosystem - including Google - will need to come to terms with these new dynamics. I put up with banners because they can easily be ignored, but no-one's going to listen to an advert while they wait for their search result(s) to be read out.
One set of technologies notable by their absence are those driven by gesture based control. Products such as Leap Motion and Knocki were all the rage at one point, especially at a time when Microsoft Kinect and Nintendo Wii were becoming popular, and the arrival of wearables was expected to drive more of this behaviour. Fair to say this is no longer the case, and in the case of Leap Motion they’ve now firmly hitched their wagon to the VR horse.
As a mobility focused company, our perspective is that it’s interesting to see “Transparently Immersive Experiences” being heralded as the next big thing. However, one of the main reasons smartphones have become so popular is that humans interface with them with virtually no movement or fuss. The interface is already very powerful, if not transparent. People can scan large quantities of data very quickly and discreetly, without worrying (too much) about who else is being nosey - it's much quicker than listening to speech, and much more discreet. It’s great for just about every location you can think of, even under water. Our view is that it’s best to think of these emerging technologies as augmenting and supporting the mobile device rather than replacing it any time soon, at least until Brain Computing Interfaces come online in ~20 years! Time will tell...
Next up: the third and final part, the ultimate catch-all: “Digital platforms”.