The Future of Connected Devices
Last Thursday the Modus Team took a short walk up 6th Avenue to the Art Directors Club to attend an event called “Valuable Connections.” The topic of conversation was connected devices (future of, value of, etc). Here are our collective thoughts.
Natural interactions with wearable technology
A major problem with wearable technology is that they always feel like they are outside of the normal interactions of our lives. Nike FuelBand (recently discontinued), for instance, manages to recede into the background while tracking your steps, but doesn’t serve any other function well – it’s a bad watch and not a very fashionable bracelet.
There seems to be a disconnect (Dis-Connect may have to be the name of our next talk…) between the people who make the existing popular wearable items – watches, necklaces, glasses, etc – and the technology world trying to add software and hardware to the mix. The problem is that the companies aren’t working together – they are all trying to do everything themselves and the result is a non-optimal object that doesn’t really satisfy either function well.
One notable exception (also notably not mentioned during the talk) is the collaboration currently going on between Google and Fossil to create a successful smart-watch. An inside source at Fossil explained that one of the main reasons that smart-watches haven’t been well received so far is the simple fact that they haven’t been made round due to screen limitations – hard to make a round touch-screen. Fossil is well positioned to know what people want out of their watches and know the fundamental truth is that watches are fashion.
Phone vs other autonomous devices – nest, iBeacon, etc
One interesting trend emerging from the field of connected devices is that we are beginning to see technologies that eschew the slavish connection to the smartphone. Autonomous devices like the Nest thermostat and iBeacon are proving that sleek design principles can be applied to free-standing technology that operates outside of a smart-phone or tablet. Even though they sometimes require those types of devices to interact with, they evoke a possible future in which your phone (or other less intrusive device) can stay hidden in your pocket while you effortlessly glide through the environments they create.
Interface and hardware and software
An interesting point-counterpoint was brought up when the conversation turned to software’s relationship to hardware and the user interface. Some companies believe that good software and user interfaces can only come from tying these things together. Apple has done this to create it’s “ecosystem” of related products and has raised the bar considerably for the industry. However, can they continue to stay ahead of the industry as a lone wolf or are they doomed to forever follow in the footsteps of their competitors who have reacted to and absorbed their innovations and pushed the envelope even further? Time will tell. The question remains – does a connected device need to be purpose-built to run its software, or can hardware be a platform to run any open-source software to produce the best and most innovative results.
Corporate goals vs humanitarian goals
Who is making all of these connected devices and the software running them? Corporations. Does that mean that all innovations that come out of those organizations are ultimately going to be about selling more widgets? Probably. While Nike Fuelband is ostensibly about impacting your personal health goals, it is ultimately about selling more exercise gear – namely Nike shoes.
Is there a future in which our interactions with connected devices makes a REAL social impact? Possibly. While Proctor & Gamble is trying hard to sell you more diapers by informing you exactly when baby has soiled their diaper and is ready for a change – doesn’t it still benefit the parent to know these things? Are capitalist and humanitarian goals truly at odds or can some form of mutually beneficial arrangement be made?
You can’t help but notice that there have been a number of high-profile security breaches in the news of late. Whether it’s China, the NSA, Heartbleed, Target, or your run-of-the-mill identity thief, there are plenty of examples to make even the most ardent futurist slightly paranoid.
What happens when (not if) our world becomes more and more connected? Systems and their software underbelly become exposed to all kinds of digital risk. Where should the barriers be? It’s rumored that it’s already possible to high-jack a car remotely through the car’s computer – what about a commuter bus or commercial airline?
We at Modus see the security industry really taking off in the future. As our reliance on connected devices and systems grows – so too does our need to keep those systems secure and safely out of the hands of those who would use them to do harm.
Touch points – how many is too many?
Michael Lebowitz of Big Spaceship described a nice project his team had created in their office in Dumbo. A box with an opaque glass front was hung on the wall – inside this box they installed colored lights that morphed from a tranquil to urgent shade to indicate when the staff would have to leave the office in order to catch the next subway. The box was connected to NYC’s new subway timing API so the timing (after calibrating for travel time to the subway stop) was actually pretty accurate. A nice way for a connected device to recede into the background and yet provide some vital information.
This last point is the most important – how can we provide value without creating annoyance?
In Conclusion – What makes life better?
The future of connected devices is excitingly undefined. New and interesting uses for the iBeacon and other devices will drive yet another round of device innovation and Moore’s Law will start to define the growth of new and exciting applications for these devices.
As we see this growth explode can we have an impact on its direction? Are we doomed to forever be surrounded by profiteering applications designed to drive the sale of shoes and other products or will a harmony be found between capitalism and humanism? Being an optimistic group we tend to defer to the better angels of our nature and look forward to a brave new world of connected devices that can serve both capitalist and humanitarian needs in a secure environment while reducing clutter and noise in our lives. A heavy ask?
Peter Drucker once said, “The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different.” It’s hard to argue with that logic, but remember, Drucker also said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Instead of throwing our hands up in the air and waiting for the chips to fall where they may – let’s start creating!