Ubiquitous Computing UX and beyond

Last week, I had a spot for presenting at Mobile Monday Brussels. In fact, being part of the Committee and having received the assignment to coordinate the agenda, I opened that spot myself;oP I felt I had something to tell, but it wasn’t really clear yet… I had 2 weeks to work my storyline!
The topic was User Experience and the location was Namahn’s wonderful office place. I’ve never really seen myself as a UX person, but my research for the last 30 months highlighted a few thoughts that could worth working on. In fact, what I used to call DICoDE – the future (middle one here) gathers most of what I talked about.

I start the presentation highlighting the difference between machines and human beings: we dream. We also assembled machines to execute repetitive and detailed tasks that we find boring. We also realized they are actually capable of executing tasks that are very painful or impossible for us to do. They’re better than us for these tasks. But they will never beat us on imagination or creativity!
I focus on 1 particular type of machines: computers. Throughout the years and decades, we saw a few technological evolutions for (personal) computers:

  • Space needed for storage and power/battery, as soon as we started making them mobile, diminishes with the time. And when we found a perfect form factor, we make them thinner, so that only the screen is left visible (look at smartphones and tablets)
  • Computing power increases significantly. According to Carved Mead and Gordon Moore, doubling every 18 months
  • Some elements disappeared (I’ll come back to this) like the keyboard and the mouse
  • Connectivity and Cloud Computing delegate storage and computing power tasks to distant servers

We can see that these key elements are located at the core of DICoDE, leaving content (and its aggregation) on one end, and the software on the other side.
And if you consider that content (aggregated or not), storage, connectivity, computing power, software and data are all being taken care of, mostly in the Cloud, you have a definition for Service!

These changes triggered the fact that we made the devices more mobile, more easy to carry around, thinner, beside the fact that they are more capable. It means that we found ways to make the device increasingly smaller, up to, following MIT’s 6th Sense project that replaces the screen by a projector/camera combo, having the device vanishing into the Cloud, converging into the real world. How? Let’s see…

If we look at it in a User-Experience perspective, we notice that the Human-Computer Interface paradigm also evolved! Starting with punch cards, moving towards a keyboard and text based (DOS) paradigm that quickly, thanks to Xerox PARC and Apple’s Mac, moved to the GUI that most computers still use today.

If we look at current’s evolutions, in the Post PC era as broadly called, we notice that the interface between the human and the computer is changing. No more mouse, no more stylus, no more physical keyboard. And the interface is much more intuitive that what Windows CE proposed… All this because it is based on Natural User Interface elements: natural touch, natural language (for Siri and upcoming mainstream intelligent assistants), gesture (Microsoft Kinect, improving game console UX initiated by the Nintendo Wii)…

So, where are we heading to if the device disappears? I believe in the concept of Augmented Objects. AO says that traditional objects (a lamp, a car, a kitchen table, a fridge… or even a thermostat, like Nest just did) can, thanks to new capabilities in terms of data storage, computing power and connectivity, accomplish new tasks. The purpose is to use these capabilities offered by Ubicomp (ubiquitous/pervasive computing), inside the object or (partly) delegated to the Cloud to achieve new purposes, aligned with new problems, expectations, usages of the user. To illustrate this, I like to take the example of the Swiss Knife.
Mobile is often called the Modern Swiss Knife. Indeed, it gathers so many sensors and features, as well as new roles via apps that this comparison is very right. But do you use your Swiss Knife when you eat in a restaurant? Do you use it if you need to cut a tree? The Swiss Knife Stage of the Mobile Computer (known as Smartphone) is just a step towards bringing back roles to the objects that were/are/will specifically be designed for it. After convergence of the worlds has been achieved, we need to diverge roles back to their “original” object.

Adding this (Augmented) Object dimension to the Service defined earlier in this post, you have a definition for Experience!

To conclude, here are the 3 take-aways of my presentation:

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5 Responses to Ubiquitous Computing UX and beyond

  1. pink psyche says:

    It really helps to understand where technology is going and what it’s going to be, by looking at where it’s been and what it was, so thank you for this interesting presentation and analysis.

  2. pink psyche says:

    and love the Swiss Knife metaphor by the way. 😉

  3. Thanks! I’ll explain soon how this Swiss Knife metaphor came up…

  4. tkoopatkoopa says:

    You wouldn’t go camping with just a spoon though …

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