Mobile networks are getting smarter and NFC components (Near Field Communications – a technology that allows the transfer of small amounts of data via radio frequency identification transponders between various types of devices) are more numerous. Some forward looking mobile product developers are creating sophisticated “situationally-aware” accessories that communicate with other software-driven devices and in some cases, with the user via a smartphone interface. Thanks to the peripherals development industry we’ve seen maturation of the concept of the internet of things, in a push that has created a significant amount of weight behind the concept. As these electronic devices begin to communicate more intelligently (objects working together without human interaction), we should expect to see less necessity for smartphone UI’s (User Interfaces) in the conversation model. A recent article by JWT Blog, whose insider reports from the GSMA (GSM -Global System for Mobile Communications) Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, highlights 13 major trends in mobile for 2013, including this next-stage concept of the disappearing smartphone screen. So, how is your smartphone screen destined to become a relic? Let’s start with what a smartphone screen is. In short, it is a way for you to interact with and control the movement of data; a way for you to tell the world what you intend for it to do around you (through various apps and web services). What if the world around you already knew what you intended? What if anyone or anything asking you was simply irrelevant or at very least statistically-redundant?
If you’re familiar with the vast integration and expansion of RFID (Radio Frequency Identifier) and/or NFC (Near Field Communication) device technology, you will begin to recognize that these sensors (and the everyday objects they’re attached to) are watching you (and the network of shared information about you is “learning”). My exposure to this technology came years ago from a friend, Sam, who was insistent that he buy me coffee over a two day, mini-exchange session of technology concepts. We have all been exposed to the benefits and drawbacks of smartphone technology … anywhere-access to everything at the cost of maintaining an electrical charge and a decent signal. But dumbed-down chips connected by a smarter network have resulted in us essentially sitting inside of a web of interconnected machinery … always on (or nearly so) and feeding movement within the network to the collectors and purveyors of it. Let’s just say, that the mobile interface is changing and in order to find what your smartphone screen is destined to become, you might have more luck digging through a clothing rack than you would through your pocket. Because those loss-prevention tags attached to nearly every article of clothing in a store, connected with the proper network and equipment, are capable of tracking status, movement and even personality patterns of the person holding the article of clothing. For mobile application developers, that is exciting. We all knew this day would come and many companies have already adapted their inventory and shipping systems to meet this next-gen technology. But how is the consumer going to react? No, not emotionally… how will they interact?
As technology leaders, developing intuitive solutions that allow for the consumer to interact with smart objects without a mobile UI (User Interface) may be something we have to accomplish through sophisticated, localized programming at the embedded hardware level. We certainly love our smartphones, but we must understand that like any tool, their utility is case-specific and at least when it comes to the expanding internet of real-world objects, mobile UI may in the end find less of an active (or interactive) role as smart objects to go about their business all around us. In this automated world, objects will begin to predict your desires (based on your movement and interaction history) with such accuracy that asking you will become more of a setup process – and it’s already here (albeit in a less mechanical form). Netflix already knows what movies to ship to you, Pandora already knows what music you’re going to like and Google already knows what your family wants for dinner (and is showing you an ad for the company right now). So … what does the “internet of things” mean for the future of User Interface Design theory? Its effect on our present lives suggests, at least, that as user interaction (and ultimately user intention) is garnered from the plethora of information gathered about you, buttons will begin to fade away, the smartphone screen may get smaller and smaller to non-existence and finally, you may not be asked what you want your “smart” phone, the internet or the world around you to do. The next time you run out of gas, don’t be surprised to find a tow truck pulling up behind you before you had a chance to pick up your phone. Because the world around you has learned to communicate with itself and is beginning to map your desires (the ultimate treasure of marketing and User Experience Design)… and while you are looking up a number on the mobile internet, the internet of things has already assessed your car’s fuel situation and has assisted you.