Originally published in Computer Arts in February 2017
Mobile has finally become ubiquitous — for many of us, the first point of contact with the world. But, with people spending most of their time in 5 heavy-use applications and a deluge of data around mobile usage, are we, makers of digital mobile products, losing sight of what really matters?
First, let’s remember what ‘mobile’ actually means — namely, being “able to move or be moved freely or easily.” Indeed, until recently having a new mobile phone felt very much like passing your driving test, or getting your first passport. My phone was how I explored the world. A bit of freedom in my pocket.
Yet years have passed and, as mobile has become mainstream, the sense of awe that came with this revolutionary new product has started to wear off. Innovation still happens at a hardware or service level, but beyond this, there is very little that is ‘new’. Because we are all so familiar now with the works of sleek, seamless UI, the chances to surprise and delight people on mobile are harder to come by.
But harder doesn’t mean impossible. We just need to look beyond what’s right in front of us. What can we learn from the way people use mobile today to create the new generation of products?.
Take TouchID, a hardware solution central to Apple Pay. Or Happn, a dating service that uses your location to find dates with people who, theoretically, share your interests, without you having to do anything. TouchID surfaces when you need it, without hassle; Happn cleverly capitalises on technology that already exists to offer a service that is relevant to you. What if, say, we could combine the two and start to create mobile products that that think about where our users are — their surroundings — while in the background, learning and responding to their personal needs?
Just look at how the various wallet apps have transformed the experience of air travel. You save your ticket, you get reminders and, voila, the ticket appears on your phone exactly when you need it. Why aren’t we creating more of these experiences? Why aren’t we enhancing our commute experience by designing a music app that, say, alerts you about your surroundings while walking or a game that pauses when your stop is coming up?.
These are what I call ‘Contextual’ and ‘Passive interactions’, they exist as part of our normal lives, without us having to “take action”. People will frown at the idea of data gathering at this level but I believe it’s an inevitable evolution. After all, we are already prepared to share data in exchange for products and services that help us on a daily basis. Used responsibly, technology such as data and geolocation will open up the next frontier of mobile products. It will give us the opportunity to enhance experiences like never before.
It’s time for all of us to let go of convention and push the boundaries. It’s time to claim back our freedom.