Next Generation Interfaces

As a provocation, imagine for a minute that you just designed your last screen. You could safely uninstall Sketch or OmniGraffle or whatever tool you use to design interfaces from your hard drive.

This might not be as far off as it seems.

I’ve been running a number of workshops lately where I include a really fun exercise called “Postcard from the Future”. And before sending people off to imagine the possibilities of a future version of a product, I provide the group with some stimulus — namely, some of the technology that seems transformative, but is practically available today.

Here are a couple of the examples I’ve been using lately — all of which could replace the “screens” we spend so much time building.

Text Interfaces

If you haven’t read ‘Futures of Text’ by Jonathan Libov yet, I highly suggest jumping over there as soon as you’re done reading this. It is a great overview of some of the cool stuff happening with text as an interface.

One of the examples that I always use, which isn’t covered in-depth in the above article, is the startup Magic.

Screen shot of Magic Home Page

Basically, you send Magic a text message and they get you whatever you want. No app to install.

The two examples I use are booking air travel and grocery shopping, both of which I got from the Magic website:

Booking a flight using Magic

This is the future of booking air travel. 10 words. Flight booked.

The other one is grocery shopping, and this one had some personal relevance for me given the eight years I worked for a food company (Hershey’s).

Grocery Shopping using Magic

Talk about taking away a chore! Completing the entire task of shopping is just as quick as writing your shopping list. Sure, some of this is an oversimplification — I’m sure most of us would want to specify how ripe the bananas should be, the type of beer to get, etc. Most of those things are stored preferences in a profile though, once you order beer from them once, and you tell them what kind, they can easily store that information and make sure you get the kind you like.

Okay, sure, so it might not make sense to replace the application itself with human beings, like in the case of Magic…

One of the other examples I use is from the startup in New York, x.ai. Have you ever tried to schedule time with someone when you don’t have access to their calendar? That is the problem x.ai is solving with Amy, a virtual assistant (not a human being) that takes the pain out of scheduling time with someone. You simply copy amy@x.ai on your reply to the person trying to schedule time with you, and she takes care of the rest.

Example of Amy from x.ai

Again, no application to install, just copy Amy on your reply to someone trying to schedule time with you and she takes care of the rest. Awesome.

These are just a couple of the awesome examples of the innovations happening with text interfaces.

Robotics

This is one of my favorite topics. I had the good fortune of attending the 2014 International Conference on Robotics & Automation in Hong Kong. The stuff I saw was pretty amazing. Since the conference, I’ve been diving pretty deep into the topic. Here is the thing that I love about Robotics — they have all the benefits of computing, with the added ability to interact with the world.

The joke I was always make when on this topic is that my wife thinks I’m a total nerd because of all the books I’ve been reading on the topic. Then, I showed her the UC Berkeley Robot who learned to fold laundry. She asked when we could get one?

Laundry folding robot

All kidding aside, I do help with the laundry.

Think about the motor skills needed for this task, this is pretty stunning. I think we’re still a number of years away from really good humanoid robots, able to fit into our lives seamlessly, but a lot of people are chasing this and we’re starting to see a lot of progress on a number of fronts.

Text Interfaces & Robotics are just two examples of some of the amazing things happening that will begin to transform the definition of “interface”.

Before we go off and just design another screen, we need to be asking ourselves: what outcome do we really want to enable, and then figure out if we can do it without a “screen”. There is a really good book that talks about this topic brilliantly: The Best Interface is No Interface by Golden Krishna. I highly recommend it!

Have you done or seen something recently that isn’t a normal screen interface? Perhaps something with Internet of Things, something else? I’d love to hear about it!