One of the paradoxes of modern technology is that the more advanced it gets, the less noticeable it is.
This is due in part to familiarity; we wouldn’t think to go anywhere without our mobile, and so the incremental innovations to each new model rarely represent a life-changing improvement. But it’s also the case that much of modern invention lies beneath the surface, rarely glimpsed directly by the user while subtly merging into the fabric of who we are and how we interact with our world.
We’ll increasingly see greater communication between devices and advances behind the scenes add richer experiences to people’s lives
After all, a smartphone screen is just a delivery mechanism. It is our apps and software that make life more convenient all around us. I like to think of this as “ambient technology”, and expect that we’ll increasingly see greater communication between devices and advances behind the scenes add richer experiences to people’s lives.
We’ve already turned to technology to predict customer behaviour when it comes to digital advertising. More recently, people have come to rely on digital personal assistants to buy groceries, call a taxi, or just play our favourite song, all with a simple voice command. And, while we still call these apps chatbots or AI they’ll soon just blend into the mesh of ambient technology that surrounds us.
The argument here isn’t that flashy new devices don’t matter, but there’s a reason innovations like Google Glass or VR headset only appeal to niche markets while app-based companies continue to thrive. They make us look ridiculous. Even if cost wasn’t an issue, few people outside of a Comic Con are willing to walk the streets looking like an extra from Star Trek for what they view as minimal gains.
There’s also a limit to how much change we’re willing to accept all at once. If you’d asked most people 10 years ago whether they’d be willing to share their payment details online just to avoid filling out a short form they would surely have hesitated, if not said no outright. And look at us now.
“At its best, technology improves our lives in an intuitive way.”
At its best, technology improves our lives in an intuitive way . Early adopters will readily accept absurd form factors and complicated interfaces, but people want to wear their technology lightly (literally so in the case of wearables) so it can follow them around in their daily lives, rather than dictating how they live, and will grow more comfortable with it over time.
This leads me onto a key principle of all innovation: focus on satisfying the user’s appetite rather than force feeding them the latest tools. The sheen of a new iPhone or Samsung Galaxy wears off quickly and people ultimately go back to using the same apps and services that have become part of their routine.
Never has an understanding of customers been more important for brands than in this “ambient” technology environment, or the ability to make our lives more convenient. What do apps like Uber Eats do that differentiates them from traditional food delivery services? They provide users with regular updates on their order status and how far away their meal is, two small considerations that tap directly into the psyche of a hungry takeaway customer.
Real innovation is about asking the right questions from a customer’s perspective
Real innovation is about asking the right questions from a customer’s perspective . While an auto manufacturer may explore what people want from driverless cars, it may be more relevant to ask how technology can remove the need to travel by car in the first place. That’s not to say I wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride in a new Tesla, but going from point A to point B still takes up valuable time that might otherwise be saved.
Disruption may be exciting, but it can also be the biggest enemy of good customer experiences. Increasingly, it will be subtle but clever innovation behind the scenes that helps brands fit into people’s ambient environment.