these are the days…

All this talk of the iPhone turning 10 takes me back to my favorite time as a design researcher. A time when best practices weren’t yet established. A time when the market was so fragmented, physical keyboards were given the same attention as touch keyboards, and the stylus was in the running to become the universal input mechanism for this form factor. It was what we called the ‘wild west’, and it was a great ride. .

These periods don’t last obviously — they can only be so bountiful for so long. After a few years of testing and iterating, the basic best practices around mobile UX had been thoroughly fleshed out, and the essential UI metaphors like ‘pinch to zoom’, ‘pull to refresh’, or ‘swipe to dismiss’ had become standard convention. Sure, the evolution of user needs and the emergence of new tech capabilities continue to bring new learnings and ongoing improvements, but they are only incremental.

This year, with almost irrefutable evidence that we’re entering another one of these ‘wild-west’ periods — the birth of a new system slated to become the next important computing platform (i.e., virtual and augmented reality), there’s reason to get excited again. Reminiscent of the early days of mobile, there are a multitude of heavy hitters competing in the virtual and augmented reality spaces, each eagerly moving forward with their independent visions for a ‘winning’ user experience. PlayStation VR for example, is betting on external visual positioning sensors to enable motion, while Microsoft HoloLens is betting on kinetic-style technologies. Oculus Rift is betting on handheld touch controllers to support navigation, while Samsung Gear is betting on an onboard touchpad controller.

As was the case with the maturation of the mobile user experience, research and iteration will be central to the organization, definition, and ongoing optimization of the VR & AR user experiences. With every round of exploratory and evaluative research, new insights will emerge, on which increasingly usable and elegant designs will be crafted. Still, as was also the case in previous categories, not all of the early players will want to participate in this process, and not all who are currently succeeding will continue to do so. This makes me feel extremely fortunate to be associated with those who want to join in the journey… and are. : )