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Wands are much better than remotes

Mobile is bringing the real and virtual worlds together quickly. How we think about this is important.

Bart Denny
Aug 15, 2013 · 2 min read

Danny Trinh of Path just had a great post here on how so many of today’s apps are much more firmly tied to the real world:

Here’s a way to classify some of the best apps today: they let you manipulate the world around you with a few taps. That is, they transform your phone into a magic wand.

I liked the original concept from Matt Choler’s TechCrunch article Great Mobile Apps Are Remote Controls For Real Life. But Danny has coined a much better metaphor for what mobile represents.

Firstly, it captures some the magic of mobile UX: gestural interfaces. Increasingly, mobile devices offer such responsive, intuitive interaction, one almost forgets there is some sort of computer between you and the screen. There is nothing non-human between you and what you are immersed with, it just fits in your hand like an extension of yourself. this sounds much more like a Wand than a remote control!

Secondly, the Remote Control metaphor is the typical engineering approach (Silicon Valley brought us the remote control, after all). The remote is known for its complex, confusing user interface, and at is nothing more than an abstraction of the machine itself, allowing you to punch its buttons from afar.

That is what most of today’s successful apps are — nicely-designed remote control buttons, able to go off to press other internet buttons, and respond back to us in pleasing visual ways. So many apps seem to aspire to only play some small part in this Universal Remote for Life.

But the Wand offers so much more potential — it’s freaking magic after all. A wand is your own creation, a constant companion, a guardian, and a summoner of great powers. It is there to help fulfill our human desires, not to act as a remote interface to some machine.

There are a few true wand apps emerging now, which blend context,personal data, and magical interfaces to change lives materially for the better.

But we are really just a few minutes into this. As the Internet becomes omnipresent in our physical world, let’s try to focus on building human-centric services that allow us to achieve things that we never thought we could, as opposed to pushing some remote button to book a hotel room right now!

And with that, Alohomora!

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